Varsity Extra

Persistent losing, not free lunches, could allow high schools to compete at lower level

Caldwell is set to move up to the 5A classification beginning with the 2018-19 school year. That will leave six teams in the 4A SIC and 14 in the 5A SIC.
Caldwell is set to move up to the 5A classification beginning with the 2018-19 school year. That will leave six teams in the 4A SIC and 14 in the 5A SIC.

Socio-economics won’t trump pure enrollment numbers in the classification system for Idaho high school sports — but losing could.

The Idaho High School Activities Association voted against installing a new model that weighs the socio-economic status at each school at its board meeting Wednesday, but it did approve a lifeline for schools to petition down based on competitive history.

That means the current system of dividing schools solely by their student enrollment will remain in place for the next classification cycle, which includes the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

Based on enrollment numbers, Caldwell and Skyview each will move up to the 5A Southern Idaho Conference in the fall of 2018, making it a 14-team league. That will leave just six teams in the 4A SIC.

The board said it was difficult to obtain consistent and accurate information from the State Department of Education for every school’s free or reduced lunch numbers because of student privacy laws. Schools would have deducted 25 percent of their students who receive free or reduced lunches from their enrollment figures under the proposal. The change was designed to reflect the different circumstances at schools such as Caldwell (63 percent free or reduced lunches) and Eagle (11 percent).

“They liked the idea. They liked the thought behind it, but it’s just too hard to get all those numbers right now,” IHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones said.

Though the proposal didn’t pass, the board did approve the addition of a “competitive equity form,” giving schools an opportunity to petition down a classification based on their lack of success.

That petition would then go before the IHSAA board or the state’s superintendents for approval.

According to the form, a school with a strong case to drop down would meet one or both of the following criteria: 75 percent of the school’s team sports (football, basketball, baseball, etc.) finishing with a winning percentage at or below 33 percent the previous two years; or finishing in the bottom 50 percent of the district tournaments 75 percent of the time for individual sports (cross country, wrestling, track, etc.).

The board also said schools can include their percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch in the petition, but that information isn’t required.

“We have a pretty good classification system in place. A lot of schools are not going to be affected by the classification change that’s been proposed,” IHSAA board member Tol Gropp said. “But the few schools that really need it, they still have a chance to petition to get down.”

Jones said the IHSAA will work with the State Department of Education to try to obtain official free or reduced lunch numbers for each school in case the proposal is reintroduced for the classification cycle starting in 2020-21.

“Our board is interested enough, they want to know if that’s something we can get to,” Jones said. “So if this comes up again — and it probably will — I want to know and be able to answer that question: ‘This is how hard it is. This is how easy it is. They told us no. They told us yes.’ Just so we know exactly, can we do this? And how many hoops do we have to jump through?”

Rachel Roberts: 208-377-6422, @byrachelroberts