NYSPHAA: Combining Teams for Athletic Participation

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Contributing Writer
Bill Burk

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.

A few years ago I was talking with the football coach at Clymer. At the time they were the smallest school in New York State playing varsity football (currently the smallest school where students PLAY football is West Valley, the smallest school to field their OWN team is Frewsburg). I asked how hard it was to be competitive with the powerhouses in his league -Maple Grove (before Chautauqua Lake merged with them) at the time, and Randolph perennially. He said that with enrollment around a hundred students he was able to compete against schools with twice as many students through seven or eight players, but after that they just couldn’t match up (Clymer usually played an eighth or ninth grader in a key position where MG had a junior or senior). He said that every few years, when a special class came through, they could stay in a game. He wasn’t bitter, didn’t complain, he enjoyed coaching and was simply stating facts.
“BEDS” is an acronym for the Basic Educational Data System. It collects student enrollment from all schools in New York State. The number is used primarily to determine state aid, and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association uses those numbers to classify schools for divisions. Basically New York State Department of Education takes a snapshot of enrollment from the previous year, grades 9th-11th.
NYSPHAA uses this to create fair divisions of athletic competition based on the perfectly rational theory that the more students a school has the better their teams will be (a school with, say, 500 students will have a competitive advantage over a school with 300 students). Makes sense.
Currently for the 2015 football season class AA is 930 or more students, Class A is 570-929, Class B is 365-569, Class C is 240-364, and Class D is 0-239. A fairly efficient model. Logically (and fairly), if you combined two schools who’s BEDS numbers add up to 500, there would be a significant competitive advantage over the school with enrollment of 300, and the merged schools should play teams that represent those numbers. Using those numbers school #1 at 300 would be class C in football and the merged schools at 500 would be Class B.
Of course, it’s far more complicated than that, and therein lies the problem with school sports team mergers. The statement from the NYSPHAA quoted above gives reasonable direction for schools to merge – foster the emergence of a new sport, support a school that has a declining number of participants in a sport and/or financial reasons – but there’s no questions that it has given merged schools a monumental competitive advantage. The evidence doesn’t stack up that mergers are being built to address that list, but rather they are marriages built to win games.
If you’ve ever rooted for a team and thought, “we’re one or two players away from being very good” (who hasn’t?), you have an idea what it feels like to coach at a small school most years (unless you live in Randolph where there’s something in the farm water). When you play at that level, it doesn’t take much to put a team over the top. In the past you had to wait for the stars to align, parents to coordinate their athletic baby-making schedules, and a player or two to develop talent past your predictions.
Now you no longer have to wait. Schools can align their own stars, build their own teams and recruit their own competitive advantage. Now you can merge with another school and reap the roster-benefits of that school’s student body, and more often than not, get to play the same competition as you have in the past.
This from a father of a school that hasn’t yet merged: Just doesn’t seem right. I used to agree that if we could field a team alone than come Hell or high water we will only be our school! Having boys now play against merged opponents….I am unable to rid myself of bias. I would welcome a merger to improve our situation. Having to “sink” to a level to compete is wrong. But with the landscape of high school athletics changing dramatically, ie. Transfer rules, Privates vs Public, etc…I now believe that it is necessary to ensure our student athletes a fair means of participation.
Welcome to the interscholastic athletics arms race.

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.