Here in Washington, our classification and state qualifying system is rather mediocre. It's a little watered down, although certainly not nearly as bad as some states (I'm looking at you, Alabama and Mississippi. 7 Classifications? Really?). Additionally, the break lines between the classifications don't always make sense, although that obviously can't always be avoided. Perhaps the largest problem, though, is in the state qualification system: Leagues/Districts are allowed to qualify on their own to state if they want, regardless of how large they are, and have the right to agree or not agree to combine with other leagues/districts should they so desire.
Often, when leagues/districts feel like they are putting their member schools at a disadvantage by combining, they will elect to qualify on their own, leaving other, often smaller, leagues/districts to fend for themselves. Some might think this is not a problem, but I would argue that there are two notable problems with this situation, at least from the standpoint of wanting the best teams to be represented at the state level.
One problem is size: some leagues are rather isolated geographically, meaning they tend to have fewer schools, and it's harder to combine with other leagues due to longer drive time - an example of this is the Greater Spokane League, which is home to several quality athletic programs, particularly in cross country. There are only two other leagues within 200 miles: the Mid-Columbia Conference (for out of state folk, just consider this more or less "South Central WA"), and the Columbia Basin-Big Nine League (out of state folk can consider this "Central/North-Central WA"). It's a really long drive for the GSL to combine with any other leagues, as they pretty much had to this year (when they drove to Seattle to combine with District 2 in the 3A classification ... a 265 mile drive just to try and get a second representative to the state meet)! This is further exasperated when the classifications are as small as they are: the CBBN doesn't even have any 3A schools!
The other problem is the reality that some leagues are simply better at some sports than others. By choosing to isolate themselves if they aren't a strong league, so they get to send more teams to state, they are in effect weakening the overall quality of the state field. This is also true in that better leagues might sometimes struggle to find another league willing to combine with them, leaving some very good programs sitting at home that might have been able to challenge for a good finish at the state level. It's pretty simple logic to realize that, when you combine the allocations and leagues in order to qualify for state, you are often going to end up sending better representatives from that combined league/district.
In order to tackle this issue in it's entirety, you have to consider a few things first.
- How many classifications should there be?
- Should classifications be determined purely by size, or should there be other factors taken into account including but not limited to geography, history of competitiveness, and socio-economic situation? Private vs. Public? Allow teams to Opt-up and/or Opt-down, and should that be on a sport-by-sport level or be more all-inclusive?
- Should schools still organize themselves in leagues as they wish?
- How many teams should be represented at the state level?
- How should teams get to the state level?
- Should it be the same for every sport?
In general, I think the easiest pill to swallow would be to change as little as is necessary in order to achieve the desired results. You can further tweak things once you get the foundation in place.
This was already a pretty long post, so I'll break this rant up into a few different posts over a few days.
Links to the other parts of this series: Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V