‘Relegation’ system for football would work

A recent story released by Dana Hess for the South Dakota NewsMedia Association told how a classification committee working for the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) is interested in a method for moving poorly-performing football teams down to a lower classification. The SDHSAA board of directors heard about the work of the committee at its meeting last Wednesday.
The committee is tasked with studying the classification system for high school sports and fine arts. The system should help the association make decisions about placing schools in the right classification to ensure fair and safe competition.
SDHSAA executive director Dan Swartos said the committee is interested in the system used in North Dakota that allows poorly-performing teams to move down a classification. Swartos said this could be particularly helpful for football programs that are uncompetitive. He said there are programs in the state that don’t play more than a one half of a football game because they are down by 50 or more points at the half.
“Football seems like the hardest program to turn around,” Swartos said, noting that he’s not aware of the same kinds of struggles in other sports.
Swartos said that if a teams moves down in classification, there is some concern about whether or not they should be eligible for the playoffs. In North Dakota, those teams are eligible, he said.
“There is some interest in looking at this,” Swartos said of the North Dakota system. “I think we’re close to having something” for the board to consider. The board’s next meeting is in January.
We are in favor of these proposed changes, which would be much like the relegation system you see in European soccer. When a team has a poor season, it is moved down the tiered system so that it must play at a lower level. If it has success at the lower levels, it can move back up. We aren’t sure if this proposed high school system would include the potential to move back up, but it certainly should. Sometimes programs just hit down cycles. That doesn’t mean they will be terrible forever.
We aren’t advocating this system because we think Custer’s football team should be moved down to Class B (although enrollment numbers have dictated that in the past) or even down to a high level of nine-man football. Quite the contrary—Custer should have a strong team next year. However, there are teams that simply can’t compete at the level they are classified in by enrollment.
Take Rapid City Central for example. Central is the largest school in South Dakota by enrollment, but routinely gets throttled in Class AAA football. Think about how rewarding it could be for that program to move down to Class AA, win some games and gain some confidence. Maybe it would even have to move all the way down to Class A to find success. It could be a boon for the program, which could then eventually move back up once it started to find some success.
It could work in the opposite way, as well. A program like Winner, which routeinly dominates Class B competition, could opt to move up to test its program against the bigger boys of Class A or even AA. It could make for much more exciting games across the state.
We fail to see much of a downside to this proposed plan. It would create a more level playing field across all classes, make for more competitive games and have less blowouts. It’s a system we are all for.

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