Mailbag: On co-ops in small schools, football alignment, girls wrestling

EDITOR'S NOTE: Opinions in this Mailbag do not reflect an official viewpoint of CHSAA.

In this installment of the CHSAANow.com Mailbag, we tackle questions about co-ops in small schools, football's alignment, football's playoff hosting rule, and girls wrestling. Oh, and RPI.

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Hi-Plains football team

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

How are two schools allowed to combine for 6-man football and end up with 25 kids on the team? Both schools had plenty of kids to field a team.

— Robert, Fleming

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you're referring to the situation that played out with Hi-Plains and Flagler this season.

Here's what happened, as I understand it:

  • Flagler decided to drop its program just prior to the season.
  • The point at which they decided to drop it came too late to form a co-op, mostly because a team can't change classifications in the same month the season begins.
  • As their school no longer fielded a program, the kids at Flagler who still wished to play football had the chance to continue playing for the closest program in their district of attendance or district of residence.
  • For many of the Flagler students, that program ended up being Hi-Plains.
  • This is allowed under state law, and is actually out of CHSAA's hands.

This state law is very beneficial for kids in a lot of circumstances, and helps ensure they can participate. But, according to CHSAA commissioner Paul Angelico, "There are a lot of unintended consequences to the state law, which we weren't asked to provide any input on."

Now, this entire situation has really drawn some scrutiny — and I do think that's understandable. Probably the biggest reason is that if the two schools were to have formed a co-op program, they would have combined their enrollment of 82 students (Hi-Plains has 38 students; Flagler has 44). That combined total would have moved the hypothetical co-op team from the 6-man division to 8-man.

This all gets an extra spotlight given the fact that Hi-Plains won the 6-man title last month. It even came up separately last week at the football committee meeting, and at a school board executive meeting.

Before we dive into this, let's get something straight: No ill will or anger should be directed toward the students, nor should their championship run be minimized. They earned their title, and they absolutely deserve it.

Secondly, this situation is not limited to Hi-Plains and Flagler. "It's more widespread than just these two schools," Angelico said. Again, the championship run simply provided the microscope which everyone is now viewing this through.

That said: I do believe there were some missteps in how this whole situation was handled. Most glaring is that the Hi-Plains program — and it was the Hi-Plains program, not Flagler's — had a tendency to act like a co-op at times:

  • Home games were held, or planned to be held, at both schools.
  • Players were being bussed from Flagler to Hi-Plains.
  • Multiple attempts were made to have the program referred to as Hi-Plains/Flagler. In fact, the Arriba-Flagler School District currently has that exact reference on its website, congratulating the program.

There were, and continue to be, hard feelings because of examples like this (and others).

I tend to believe the truth of what happened is somewhere more in the middle, as is usually the case in situations such as this.

I believe the Flagler merely is proud of its kids, and has sought during and after the season to support them. I believe that dropping a program is not something any school takes lightly, especially a small school, because of the implications that can mean for the small town that surrounds it.

And, as Angelico said, simply dropping a program is never a good thing.

"Every time this happens," he said, "we've cut the opportunities for kids to complete in half. If there are two basketball programs, there are 10 kids who start. If you drop one program, suddenly that becomes five."

But I also believe that the adults involved with the decision-making process are aware of the fact that dropping the program just prior to the season gave them an advantage that other programs did not have. And that probably should be addressed so that it doesn't happen in the future.

In fact, it is being looked into already. At the football committee meeting, CHSAA assistant commissioner Harry Waterman noted that, "It's on our radar."

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Now that we're out of the regular season and into the playoffs, is it safe to say that the creation of football leagues in 4A and especially 5A using the "waterfall" method was an unmitigated disaster?

Leagues were uncompetitive. Crowds were non-existent. No rivalries. There was zero buzz in the last half of the season. It needs to be scrapped and redone.

— C.J., Denver

Unmitigated disaster? No. This isn't some geopolitical catastrophe. Let's keep some perspective — this is high school football.

To your point, yes, I would say that the current alignment is unsuccessful in 5A, and (more relevant) others — decision-makers whose opinions actually matter — agree with that. But I do not think the same is true in 4A. I think how 4A structured their waterfall to play out geographically was a good inbetween step that sought some balance to the leagues, but also keep teams relatively close together. That allowed for certain rivalries to continue in league play.

The first thing to remember with this is that the proposal to move to the waterfall alignment was nearly entirely driven by 5A coaches. That fact has really been forgotten, especially by some 5A coaches.

As you might guess, the waterfall alignment was also discussed at football committee last week.

"This was an idea that came from the membership, a lot of coaches primarily," committee chair Mike Krueger said. "We wanted equal leagues. This committee did that."

If certain rivalries didn't continue, it wasn't because schools didn't have the opportunity to play the game. They had five weeks of non-league schedule where they could try and schedule whoever they wanted. So if rivalries didn't continue, it was because one (or both) schools opted to not schedule that rivalry game during non-league. (The counter argument here is that some opted to not schedule the game out of fear for what it would do to their RPI rating.)

This is not to say that say that the current alignment has been good for all schools. As I wrote, I believe it was unsuccessful in its first year. Rivalry games probably shouldn't be in the early part of the year, because of the financial implications for schools you mention, but also because they mean more later in the season.

Beyond everything else, as Krueger pointed out, the waterfall has "really highlighted the disparity in 5A football." The attention is turning to saving programs in 5A.

Said Krueger: "I sit here, as the chair of this committee, extremely concerned about the schools on the lower end of 5A that may or may not be able to retain their programs because they haven't been able to compete at the highest level."

So where to from here? For starters, the current alignment will be in place again for the 2017 season — barring something crazy happening at Legislative Council next month or in April.

Behind the scenes, it looks like we may be headed for some type of new classification structure, possibly in 2020. That should be designed to address many of the issues behind the waterfall's intent, especially competitive equity.

So that means the football committee will essentially be looking for some kind of a two-year bridge between this current alignment in 5A and the new classification system. And I'll bet they take a close look at what 4A did with its geographic waterfall.

Columbine Pomona football 2016 state playoff quarterfinals generic

(Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

Why is it that a No. 1-seeded team will be at home for one round of the playoffs and on the road for the next round? In Wyoming, the higher seed always hosts with the exception of the state championship games in Laramie.

I think that makes more sense to have the higher seed host all the way through the playoffs.

— Jim, Greeley

I tend to agree with you. I'm a fan of high seeds hosting, period.

But the majority of schools don't agree, and that's what matters. They've long had this rule in place in order to spread out the cost of travel, but also to give different communities the opportunity to host a playoff game, which doesn't come around too often in many places.

This one is like the Sunday contact rule. It's often brought up as the target of change, but that wave of change never succeeds.

Perhaps one day it will. It may happen incrementally, meaning, for example, it may take root at the 5A level before it does in 1A. 3A has already taken a small step, guaranteeing that the high seed will host its championship game.

State volleyball Mountain Vista Fossil Ridge generic

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Would you feel good about working for a company that based your merit on 25 percent of your performance and the other 75 percent performance out of your control. I wouldn't and I wouldn't work for that company.

That's the way our kids feel about RPI. Why work hard because whether you make playoffs or not depend on opposing teams and teams you don't even play? Come On Man that's not fair.

— Tim, Lone Tree

A few sports committees are starting to agree with this line of thinking. Baseball, soccer and football have all recently made tweaks to their RPI percentages. Others, like softball and volleyball, opted not to change.

Here's what I'll say about this argument: Teams, for the most part, can control who they schedule. So that's actually 75 percent of components they can control.

Yes, they can't actually foresee an opponent's exact record, but they typically can have an idea of how good an opponent will be. And granted, there are instances where it makes it tough to have a good strength of schedule. However, by-and-large, the strength of schedule is in the hands of the team doing the scheduling.

Recently, when someone argues that they can't "control" components used by the RPI, I have started to interpret that as them saying they can't manipulate it. And honestly? Good. You shouldn't be able to control all aspects of a computer ranking system that's seeking to objectively evaluate your team.

To me, that's what makes the third column in the RPI — the winning percentage of your opponents' opponents (OOWP) — so valuable. It judges how good your opponents really are.

CHSAA state wrestling

(Kai Casey/CHSAANow.com)

I am really excited to see how this girls wrestling thing plays out! Do you think it has a shot of moving forward? I think it would be really great for girls to have this chance.

— Chris, Pueblo

Based on this most recent step — girls-only tournaments will be held this season — yes, I do think it has a good shot of moving forward.

The response to that news has kind of shocked me. I thought it would be positive, but it really has been overwhelmingly positive, including from surrounding states. This really looks like it would be a great step for the sport in Colorado.

Here's hoping that the trial run goes really well, and we can begin to talk seriously about sanctioning girls wrestling.

What does a CHSAA suspension mean and how is it enforced? Specifically, if a school is under "suspension" how are they able to participate in the postseason for any of their sports?

— Janice, Littleton

There are two specific kinds of punishments that are handed out to schools and coaches/admins: probation, and restriction. What you are referring to is known as restriction, which bars a team or coach from participating in the postseason.

I can't think of a situation where a team has actually been barred from the postseason (though there may be), and the reason for that is that the CHSAA office really tries to not punish kids if at all possible. Coaches, on the other hand, are barred from the postseason (as a whole, or a single game) from time-to-time.

Typically what happens is a school or program will be placed on restriction and then have to submit an improvement plan which specifically details how they will fix the issue that caused the restriction. And typically, that team or school will be removed from restriction at that point. At the same time, coaches may be left on restriction.