Things are potentially about to get interesting in Class A.
With Anaconda and Libby dropping to Class B in the fall of 2015, there will only be 20 schools in Class A. If nothing changes between now and then – though things assuredly will – here’s how the divisions will break down:
Northwestern A (four teams) – Columbia Falls, Frenchtown, Polson, Whitefish
Southwestern A (five teams) – Butte Central, Corvallis, Dillon, Hamilton, Stevensville
Central A (five teams) – Belgrade, Browning, Havre, Lewistown, Livingston
Eastern A (six teams) – Billings Central, Glendive, Hardin, Laurel, Miles City, Sidney
Duane Walker, the Class A representative on the Montana High School Association executive board, said the Class A meetings are in June. He then expects a discussion to take place on reorganizing the teams into two or three divisions.
Class A did have three divisions in the early 2000s when there were 24 teams in the class.
The Eastern A looked like it does now, with the addition of Colstrip, to form a seven-team division.
The Central division was made up of eight teams: Dillon, Lewistown, Butte Central, Havre, Browning, Belgrade, Anaconda and Livingston.
And the Western division had nine teams in Stevensville, Ronan, Bigfork, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Corvallis, Polson, Libby and Hamilton.
With fewer teams now, would a similar breakdown work?
The Eastern A probably wouldn’t change, keeping its six teams. The Central division would probably have seven teams, looking like it did in 2000, minus Anaconda. The West would have Stevensville, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Corvallis, Polson, Frenchtown and Hamilton.
That’s doable and logical.
Going to only two divisions would pose bigger problems, but what would those potentially look like?
East (10 teams) – Sidney, Glendive, Miles City, Hardin, Billings Central, Laurel, Livingston, Lewistown, Havre and Belgrade.
West (10 teams) – Columbia Falls, Polson, Frenchtown, Whitefish, Corvallis, Hamilton, Stevensville, Butte Central, Dillon and Browning.
Yeah, a two-division format is a real longshot. Going back to three divisions looks to be the right move for Class A.
Now, on to a bigger issue facing the MHSA as a whole. As of now, Mark Beckman, the MHSA executive director, said the association hasn’t discussed changing the enrollment cutoffs. But it’s a popular discussion topic around the state.
In Class A, there was a 718-student difference between the largest school (Belgrade) and the smallest (Butte Central) according to the 2013-14 fall enrollment numbers. If you exclude Butte Central (after all, Butte Central petitions to stay in Class A every reclassification cycle), the gap was still 525 students from Belgrade to Glendive, meaning Belgrade was roughly two and a half times bigger than Glendive.
It’s similar in Class B. It’s even worse in Class C.
So is it time to go to five classifications? Or can you stick with four classes and only modify the cutoffs?
That’s a harder decision. Five classes theoretically make sense, since that’s how things are essentially divided in football with Class C broken up into 6- and 8-Man divisions.
But that doesn’t really solve the issue of “haves” versus “have-nots” in one classification. You can’t really move Ronan, Eureka and Bigfork back into Class A – they were moved down for a reason – with Columbia Falls, which had nearly 700 students last fall. And you can’t really move Columbia Falls up to Class AA with the likes of Bozeman (1,961 students) and Billings West (1,883).
If you do that, you’re just moving the problem instead of solving it.
Either way – if everything changes or nothing changes – the MHSA faces some big decisions down the line.