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Thursday, July 27, 2017: NYSPHSAA adjusts graduated scale for combined teams

   CLAYTON, N.Y. -- The annual NYSPHSAA Central Committee meeting wrapped up Wednesday, ahead of schedule and setting the table for a slew of votes this fall at the next Executive Committee meeting as the next batch of proposals exits the discussion stage.

   I'm hoping to muster the energy to write a broader assessment of the two days of meetings Friday -- a legitimate Section 1 concern related to the upcoming inaugural state dual-meet championship in wrestling demonstrated that the people in charge have to always be thinking -- but for the moment will keep the focus on Wednesday's developments.

   The key vote: As I explained over the weekend in the meeting preview, concern over combined teams had been building, leading to the proposal that was voted on and narrowly approved Wednesday.

   I was sure the vote on changing the graduated scale for calculating BEDS figures was going to be the key topic in the two days of meetings. The only surprise in my mind is that all was said and done in just seven minutes. Even with the lengthy discussions that had already taken place at the local and state levels in the past year, I expected one final round of questions and concerns to be aired, perhaps followed by one or two attempts to amend the proposal.

   The 24-21 margin in the vote confirmed what had been apparent in May at the final Executive Committee meeting of the school year. Survey results shared at that time showed Sections 1, 2, 9 and 10 had mild or extreme concerns about the formation of combined teams, and they followed up by voting a combined 14-1 in favor of the tougher graduated scale. Sections 3, 5, 8 and 11 saw it as a slight issue or no issue at all and followed through by casting all 16 votes in opposition.

   Switching out of what seemed to be their previous takes on the issue, Section 7 supported the changes and Section 6 opposed. Section 4, whose survey responses put them squarely on the fence, cast its four votes in favor of the change and assured passage.

   Digging a little deeper: How significantly might the rule change affect the landscape? Let's take a look at 11 combined teams that placed in the top eight of NYSPHSAA in the most recent school year, and what the effect would have been if they were working under the just-approved revision to the graduated scale:

   Three Pittsford teams -- the girls lacrosse champions and the runners-up in boys lacrosse and ice hockey -- would not have been affected because the Panthers play in the highest classification in each sport. Ditto for boys Class A lacrosse semifinalist Lakeland/Panas, which played up one notch from where it needed to be this spring. The Mattituck/Southold girls that reached the Class D semis in lacrosse would have barely remained in the smallest class.

   There were three combined entities placing in the top eight in cross country. The Harley/Allendale-Columbia girls would have easily remained in Class D, as would have the North Warren/Johnsburg boys. And the Westhill/Bishop Ludden girls could have remained at the low end of Class B.

   In football, losing quarterfinalist Roscoe/Downsville/Livingston Manor reached the Class D semifinals. The combination of those three tiny schools would have remained in Class D.

   In baseball, losing semifinalist Deposit/Hancock would have stayed in Class D but is another example of collaboration that might have to be reconsidered when the five-class BEDS classification cutoffs next get changed.

   And in field hockey, Class C quarterfinalist Pierson/Bridgehampton easily would stay in Class C.


   So, was this whole exercise -- the subject of discussion at numerous sectional and state Executive Committee meetings in the past year -- for naught? Hardly. If nothing else, it slams shut a loophole that would allow two mid-sized Class A teams or two in Class B to combine and still not move up a class in the postseason.

   Secondly, 10 of the 11 sections (there was no data from Section 4) reported in May a combined 80 sectional team titles -- as opposed to just appearances in the top four spots, etc. -- by hybrid teams over the previous three years. That undoubtedly included instances of teams that squeezed in just beneath the cutoff number.

   And then there's the large city districts, which routinely roll three or more schools into combined teams. It's not so much an issue in Rochester, which is rarely competitive in any of those sports, but it's been a source of frustration in the Buffalo and Syracuse areas.

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   A few other votes: The soccer committees had been compiling data for 12 years on the number of red and yellow cards issued per section in response to long-ago concerns about on-field behavior. With the most recent numbers not especially troubling and in light of the fact that the data really wasn't being used at the state level, sections were told they no longer needed to report.

    • The starts of modified sports seasons will be moved up to match varsity and JV seasons with section and league approval starting with the upcoming winter season. It's the first of what likely will be many steps in the next two years to substantially reshape modified sports in an era in which many schools and leagues no longer play at the JV level in some sports.

    • The proposed changes to the girls volleyball classification cutoffs (see here) were approved.

   Most interesting subject I overlooked: I read the agenda item twice and still had no idea what the big deal was over the document labeled "Future of School Enrollment Numbers." Well, I got educated on Wednesday, and it's a fairly significant change that may come up for a vote by early next year.

   The State Education Department currently collects BEDS data from individual schools each October and spits out a report in January that leads to a flurry of activity in the state and sectional offices to verify the accuracy. Regardless of how quickly they can to that work and then flag which schools will be moved up or down in class in each sport beginning in the fall, it's a nightmare for league officials and ADs trying to put together football, soccer and volleyball season schedules that frequently are based on BEDS-driven divisional alignments. It gets worse if there are significant changes when the official State Education Department data is published in June.

   The idea now being kicked around is to wait a year to implement changes. So, data that schools report in October 2020 would go through the normal workflow at the State Education Department but would only be put into use by the NYSPHSAA in time for the 2022-23 school year.

   More tidbits: The NYSPHSAA website contains a prominent link to a National Federation of State High School Associations initiative to recruit more game officials for various sports. The National Federation told New York it is the No. 1 state in the country for generating inquiries by prospects.

   I joked on Twitter and don't intend to get into details here, but at some point between now and the state championships, I do want to explore something that's apparently an actual issue in competitive cheerleading.

   The sport's No. 1 issue at the moment is arguably the complexity of the scoring system requiring judges to grade a lot of components during a relatively short routine. Even experienced coaches can have trouble grasping it all and assessing whether their squad's routine was scored accurately; spectators are even more challenged in that respect.

   But running a close second based on what I heard during a discussion at Wednesday's meeting is that the culture of some sections is to put more emphasis on dance elements in the routine while others are partial to the execution of cheers. The implied concern is that teams performing in front of the "wrong" judges could be at a disadvantage.

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