Here’s what I did. I tallied wins and losses for all Section VI Class B, C, and D high school football games from the first two weeks of the season (full disclosure, I was too lazy to do the A-schools). Merged schools went 11-2 against single schools (it’s striking that we need a category called “Single” schools. How about “Root” schools, “Traditional”? maybe “Genuine”? I’m going with Genuine.), and schools with higher enrollments were 21-8 against lower enrollments (merged or not). I haven’t thrown a t-test or standard deviation at it yet, but it looks like a trend to me. More students = better football team. In the past this was a simple function of the population your school served. With merged sports teams this is no longer the case. Schools can recruit the student bodies they use to fill a team, and, more or less, choose their level of competition. I did a little math to see what the competitive landscape could look like if schools wanted to merge and max out their potential enrollment:
-Class D: The BEDS range goes from 0 (that’s right ZERO) to 239, and added schools come in at 20% of their total enrollment. I looked at the smallest school fielding their own football team, Frewsburg at 191. The Bears could conceivably play a merged team coming from 389 students.
-Class C (240-364 and 30%): Salamanca is the smallest at 248 and could play a merged team from over 500 students.
-Class B (365-569 and 30%): Fredonia at 369 is a school certainly big enough to field their own team. Should they have to compete against a merged team built from over 750 students?
– Class AA is 930+, with Jamestown at 1,043. Riverside/I-Prep/DaVinci/Lafayette/East/Arts is SIX schools with a combined BEDS of a whopping 2,177 students.
Those calculations are in-class comparisons (Ds playing Ds, Cs playing Cs, and so on). But in some cases you can combine more than two schools and you are only required to move up a single class. For instance, you could take three current Class C schools with total enrollment over 1,000 and compete against Fredonia in Class B if you wanted.
Case in point: the Bennett/Olmsted/Alt team plays in Class C with total school enrollments of 622 (Class A level). There are almost 100 schools in Section VI, BOA would be the 24th highest in enrollment, and they will play this year to finish higher than the 29th lowest enrolled school (Salamanca) for a Class C sectional title. They pulled this off this because they only have to take 20% of their BEDS number to add to their largest partner (Olmsted 237 + Bennett (20% of 234) 46 + Alternative (20% of 191) 38 = 321). So far, they beat Silver Creek/Forestville (344 students) by 39 and Akron (349), a perennial contender in Section VI Class C, by 48. Remember the stipulation from Section VI on mergers:
The combining of teams from two or more schools to form a single team may be permitted by the Section in order to foster the emergence of a new sport, support a school that has a declining number of participants in a sport and/or financial reasons.
Football at Bennett High School; not a new sport, not financially strapped, and if they’re claiming declining numbers, know that their roster from 622 upperclassmen has only four underclassmen…a freshman who is 6 feet, 245 pounds, and three sophomores, all 6 feet tall and none under 180 pounds. Check the roster of your favorite Genuine team in Class C and tell me what you find. They’ve basically made a mockery of the opportunity to merge schools.
In small schools you move underclassmen up. That has always been the case and that’s how you fill a roster. You play with smaller, less talented players. You don’t just go out and add a school. If declining numbers are indeed a factor in your merger, the only real fair way is to add 100% enrollment. The problem is, with the way NYSPHAA has set it up, merged football schools are not about opportunity, so let’s call it what it is. Look at the rosters of merged schools and tell me how many underclassmen play on the varsity. Then compare that to non-merged schools. If a merger results in a school having enough players to field three JV teams, it’s not about opportunity…it’s a farm system for varsity programs. It’s a shame, but it’s also the state of the state.
Repeat: Let the interscholastic athletics arms race begin!
To read more of Bill Burk’s reflections, astute observations and a rant or two on the wide world of sports, visit www. jamestowngazette.com and click on Bill Burk’s page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.