HEISER: Six-class proposals for PIAA football likely doomed to failure


Perfection is unattainable, fairness is elusive and change is hard.

That's why the status quo generally becomes so entrenched that it's nearly impossible to dislodge.

That's the situation in which the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association finds itself.

The governing body of high school athletics in the state is mulling the possibility of making a significant modification to its most high-profile sport — football.

Since the state football playoffs started in the late 1980s, the PIAA has divided the teams into four equal classifications for the purposes of competition — AAAA, AAA, AA and A. Class AAAA is for the biggest schools, while A is for the smallest schools. With nearly 600 football schools in the PIAA, that's almost 150 schools per class.

There is a movement afoot, however, to increase the number of football classifications to six. There are two proposals under consideration by the PIAA that would do just that.

One plan would create six equal classes. The other plan would create a Super 700 class for schools that have a boys' enrollment of more than 700 in grades nine through 11. The schools under that enrollment figure would then be divided into five equal classes.

There is also a proposal that would keep the current setup of four equal classes.

Look for the latter proposal to win out and for the status quo to stay firmly in place.

There are a few reasons for that.

Change is hard: No. 1, change, as noted above, is hard — very hard. Inertia is an extremely powerful force to overcome, especially in bureaucratic organizations such as the PIAA.

It's just plain easier to simply do nothing than it is to do something. That's human nature.

There's also a faction that doesn't believe change is needed and that having six classes would simply water down the value of being a state champion. It's an argument with more than a little validity.

WPIAL factor: No. 2, the single most powerful force within the PIAA is generally against the change to six classifications. District 7, also known as the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, is the 800-pound gorilla in state high school athletics. If it strongly opposes an idea, that idea usually doesn't come to fruition.

The single-most important event on the WPIAL schedule is its championship football day at Heinz Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. All four District 7 title contests are held on that day. Moving to six classes would make it nearly impossible to for the WPIAL to continue that tradition, for a number of logistical reasons. District 7, which is steeped in high school football history, does not give up its traditions easily. It will likely fight the change to six classes with all of its considerable might.

No plan will satisfy everyone: No. 3, neither of the six-class proposals will satisfy everyone, even those outside of the WPIAL.

The Super 700 proposal was made in an effort to placate some smaller AAAA schools that feel it's unfair that schools with a boys' enrollment of around 500 have to compete against monster schools that have boys' enrollments in the thousands.

Cumberland Valley, for example, has a boys' enrollment of 1,038. The Eagles also own more District 3-AAAA titles than anyone with 10. Of course, a huge enrollment is no guarantee of success. Reading has an enrollment of more than 2,000, but has zero District 3-AAAA crowns. Ditto for Lancaster McCaskey (1,275) and Chambersburg (1,118). Still, size usually does matter. Bigger schools have bigger talent pools.

Even with the Super 700 proposal, however, the disparities won't disappear. Using the most recent PIAA enrollment numbers, only two York-Adams schools would be in the Super 700 class — Red Lion (807) and York High (764). Both are less than half the size of Reading and have more than 200 fewer boys than CV.

A couple other local schools would just miss that cut — Dallastown (694) and Central York (673).

Under the Super 700 plan, Red Lion and York High officials probably wouldn't be real happy, while the Dallastown and Central York folks would likely smile from ear to ear, knowing they wouldn't have to bang heads with the CV juggernaut anymore come District 3 time.

Under the plan with six equal classes, Dallastown and Central would likely get bumped up to 6-A, meaning their road to a district crown would still need to go through CV.

Status quo likely to remain: Different plans, different outcomes and likely different supporters.

No plan is perfect and fairness is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

That's why, when the three proposals on the table come up for more discussion and a possible final vote in the fall, look for the status quo to remain in place — four equal classes.

There simply doesn't appear to be enough state-wide support to overcome the inertia of doing nothing.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at