While spring sports are on hiatus, I figured I would try and write a column each week on some evergreen subjects.
Last week, I looked at whether spring sports would return this year. The answer to that question is complicated at best.
This week, I’m taking a look at the biennial bickering bonanza known as realignment.
Assuming things in the prep sports realm return somewhat to normal in the fall, the upcoming realignment for the 2021-23 school years will be finalized this fall by the Utah High School Activities Association’s Board of Trustees.
School enrollment numbers published by the Utah State Board of Education in October 2019 indicate some potential problems facing the eight-school Region 1 this fall.
When the last realignment put Roy High in Region 1, it drew the ire of coaches and athletic directors who didn’t want an eight-team region.
If an eight-team region is going to irk people, try a nine-team region.
THE FARMINGTON EFFECT
Oddly enough, many of Region 1’s potential issues have to do with a school that’s not in Region 1.
Farmington High, in Region 5, is the largest 5A school in the state with 1,878 students in grades 10-12 and 1,214 for grades 11-12 as of Oct. 1, 2019, according to USBE enrollment data.
That’s 155 students more than Alta, the second-largest 5A school, and 333 students larger than Box Elder, the second-largest Region 5 school.
Keep in mind, the BOT will look at enrollment numbers for next school year, but the current numbers indicate where things could go.
Farmington is larger than a total of seven 6A schools, including Roy and Northridge, and is still expected to grow.
That would make for nine 6A-sized schools in Weber and Davis counties, pushing region schedules from 14 games to 16 for most team sports in the current play-each-other-twice format.
Soccer coaches might flip a table at that prospect since their teams are allowed a total of 16 regular-season games.
So, a nine-team region?
First, board members have publicly expressed a desire to not have nine-team regions anymore (look around, there aren’t any).
The possibility of a nine-team region exists because the BOT currently sorts schools mainly based on enrollment, geography and a couple drops of competitive equity.
The board can move schools up or down one classification if the school is either at the high or low end of a classification’s enrollment, which is called a “bubble school.”
If a school has a high rate of students on free-and-reduced lunch, it can petition down a classification.
There’s no mechanism for moving a school up or down if the school’s enrollment securely puts it as a “non-bubble school” and/or if that school wants to move down for competitive reasons.
Farmington will have a hard time staying in 5A in part because of its enrollment, and also because it won six of the seven available Region 5 championships last fall.
The Phoenix also won a region title in girls basketball and was expected to win or contend for multiple region championships this spring.
The Region 1 issue might force the BOT’s hand to adjust its MO. It might not.
Normally, the board adopts its realignment format and procedures several months before sorting regions and classifications.
The format and procedures basically act as a guide for the board on how to sort schools.
Any change that would allow for more fluidity between classifications based on competitive equity and other circumstances would come from the board approving a change of format and procedures.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the BOT meeting scheduled for March — when the board was set to discuss these very procedures — was indefinitely postponed.
There’s no indication if the BOT is considering such a move or not. The next scheduled BOT meeting is May 5.
If things stay the way they are now, Region 1 is looking at a nine-team setup, something coaches and administrators in the region wouldn’t be thrilled about. Relief might come if a school or two ends up being a low-end bubble school and gets the ability to petition to 5A.
If there are indeed nine 6A schools between Weber and Davis counties, one “solution” could be to put Davis and Farmington in a Salt Lake County region.
The board first considered Davis and Farmington in Region 3 with SLC schools two years ago. School and district officials threw a fit and it didn’t happen.
Could other things happen that alleviate a nine-team Region 1?
Roy and Northridge, the fifth and sixth-smallest 6A schools respectively, could be bubble schools and advocate for 5A, leaving seven teams in Region 1 and (likely) putting seven schools in Region 5.
Box Elder could plausibly be big enough to go to 6A in the fall, making for 10 6A size schools along the northern corridor, which could then split into two regions of five.
Whether BEHS would even want to go to 6A is a different question.
WHAT HAPPENS IF
THERE ARE CHANGES?
Say the board adopts a mechanism allowing for more fluidity between classifications. Who from Region 1 would look to leave?
Two years ago, Roy High’s athletic director and then-principal advocated to stay in 5A Region 5 to no avail.
The Royals have struggled in Region 1 apart from football, which finished tied for second place.
Roy’s next-best team finish in fall or winter sports was boys cross country taking fifth place. Elsewhere, three teams took sixth, two finished seventh and four took eighth out of eight teams.
Even some in Region 1 didn’t want Roy in 6A, and Roy’s inclusion in the region has stirred up drama behind the scenes, particularly with football.
What about Clearfield? Its enrollment (2,016 students in grades 10-12, 1,296 in grades 11-12) puts it firmly in 6A enrollment-wise, but the Falcons’ team sports overall haven’t had much success lately and might be better suited in 5A.
As recently as 2014-15, Clearfield competed in 4A when there were five classifications, so there’s precedent for the school moving down.
Northridge could be a bubble school given its low-for-6A enrollment, but would the school want to leave the only region it’s ever been in since the school opened?
Elsewhere, it seems probable that new school Cedar Valley (Eagle Mountain) could move from 4A to 5A, and another new school in Mountain Ridge (Herriman) could go from 5A to 6A.
Enough upward movement might help schools that want to drop down.
Bonneville wanted to stay in 4A but ended up in 5A two years ago, citing a drop in enrollment over the two prior years.
Out of 29 schools in 5A, Bonneville’s enrollment ranks 23rd and the school is actually smaller than Stansbury, the largest 4A school.
Stansbury, Cedar Valley and Tooele are the three largest 4A schools in the state and they’re all in Region 10 with Ogden and Ben Lomond.
While Cedar Valley appears likely to move up, it doesn’t seem logical for just Stansbury or Tooele to move to 5A without the other. If all three move up, then things get very interesting.
Morgan High — which, at 721 students, is the third-largest 3A school by 10-12 grade enrollment — could move from 3A to 4A as it’s expected to substantially grow in the future.
The Trojans have been wildly successful the past couple years, winning three state championships in the 2018 calendar year and five in 2019.
Morgan was placed as a 4A non-bubble school two years ago with Grantsville and Union, then the BOT went against its own processes and dropped the three schools back to 3A.