High school basketball in the state of Maine could take on a radically different look if Maine Principals’ Association members adopt a proposed five-class system.

The MPA Classification Committee’s plan, which it approved unanimously on Wednesday, recommends adding a fifth class to the long-standing four-class system for high school basketball.

The proposal, which could be enacted for the 2015-16 season if approved by the MPA’s full membership next spring, adds a single-division “Super-A” class consisting of the state’s largest basketball-playing schools. The remaining four classes, dubbed 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A in the plan, would be split into two regional divisions, to be renamed north and south.

The format change would address declining and shifting student populations that have led to more of the state’s larger school enrollments aggregating in the West region while creating a logjam of smaller school classes in the East in recent years, according to Bunky Dow, athletic administrator of Mount Desert High School in Bar Harbor and chairman of the Classification Committee.

“I think it’s a big improvement over what we’ve had,” Dow said. “It just makes for a more competitive and evenly-balanced division of schools. I know there are going to be critics out there. It’s just a proposal. If we need to tweak it, we’re willing to do that.”

“I think it’s necessary,” said Nokomis assistant principal and classification committee member Phil St. Onge. “We’ve gotten to the point where there’s such a disparity with enrollment numbers between bigger and smaller schools that we had to address it.”

Under the proposed five-class format, which uses enrollments for the next two-year cycle, “Super A” would serve schools with enrollments over 824. Class 2A would include school enrollments 545-824, Class 3A 315-544, Class 4A 121-314 and Class 5A 1-120.

The current four-class format serves 142 schools. Enrollment cutoffs are 705+ for Class A, 425-704 for Class B, 190-424 for Class C and 1-189 for Class D.

In recent years, Eastern Class A has steadily declined to 13 boys and girls teams. Eastern Class D, meanwhile, has ballooned to 22 boys teams,

“Once you get above 24 teams in a division, you have to add a round of play-in games,” St. Onge said. “It really messes up your tournament and the regular season, and we’re getting dangerously close to that in D East.”

Under the proposal, the largest divisions would be in 4A, which would have 19 teams in each region. “Super A” would host 16 boys and 17 girls teams. Class 2A would have 13 in each division. Class 3A 18 schools in the “north” and 13 in the “south.” Class 5A would contain 14 in the “north” and 13 in the “south.”

Committee members acknowledged such a shift would likely have an impact on conferences and scheduling, but added those weren’t considerations in developing the proposal.

“We can’t worry about scheduling. We have enough on our plate,” Dow said. “But I don’t think there’s so much displacement where it can’t be fixed.”

In a five-class system, for example, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference would have teams spread among three classes — “Super A,” 2A and 3A. Many teams currently in Eastern A, such as Cony, Lawrence, Messalonskee, Mt. Blue, and Skowhegan would be part of Class 2A, along with some current Eastern B schools such as Erskine, Gardiner, Nokomis and Waterville.

“I really think it impacts our league more than others, because we’re a big league geographically and because of the way it splits the league up,” Erskine activities administrator Doran Stout said.

Stout, who said the proposal was a major topic of e-mail exchanges among KVAC administrators on Thursday, noted there are enough Southern Maine Activities Association teams in the proposed “Super A” class (12 boys, 13 girls) that those schools would not have to look outside their class to generate a complete 18-game schedule. KVAC schools, on the other hand, would have to schedule games with schools outside of their class.

“Look at the 2A schools. How many of them are going to be interested in scheduling Super A schools that they’re already having a hard time competing with?” said Stout, whose student enrollment at Erskine would make his school the second smallest in the proposed Class 2A.

“If the Heal points stay as they are, it’s going to take some tricky scheduling to make this fair for everyone,” he added.

A shift away from the Heal points or to an unweighted Heal points system isn’t on the horizon, Dow said. He added the committee talked with league presidents about other ways of grouping the classes “but the bottom line was enrollment was the fairest and most consistent way to do it across the board.”

Dow said the committee has been discussing changes to the basketball landscape since the last classification cycle and credited the “positive ripple effect” of high school football’s expansion from three to four classes with spurring discussion of similar changes in high school basketball. Other sports, such as baseball, softball and soccer, could follow suit if schools find a revamped basketball format to their liking, he said.

The proposal still has several more steps before it goes up for final approval before the MPA’s full membership at its annual spring meeting. The MPA Basketball Committee will review it before the Classification Committee reconvenes in January to hear questions from its member schools and make any revisions (such as schools who want to petition up a class) to the plan. It will then submit its final recommendations to the MPA Interscholastic Management Committee in March.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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