The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 20, 2012

Our View: Seven classes stretches too far

The Free Press

— David and Goliath moments are what high school sports fans live for.

In 1960, the little southwest Minnesota town of Edgerton (population 961) electrified the state when it outplayed the big schools to win the state boys basketball championship.

Remember the movie “Hoosiers”? The 1986 film immortalized the little town boys basketball team of Milan, which won Indiana’s 1954 state championship battling the behemoths.

You won’t see many moments like those in Minnesota high school sports these days, especially in football, where on Friday and Saturday seven different state championships will be decided. The 2012 Prep Bowl will be played over two days in the home of the Vikings where titles in classes 9-Man, A, AA, AAA, AAAA, AAAAA and AAAAAA will be decided.

For the purist, seven classes seems more than just a little bit odd. And rightfully so.

No one should expect that Minnesota prep football teams should be bunched together in a single class. That would make it impossible for many schools to win a state title. But seven?

Last April, the Minnesota State High School League expanded the football classes from six to seven, figuring (we suppose) what’s another class when you’ve already got six? MSHSL officials went for the addition to reduce enrollment gaps between the largest and smallest schools within each class — in other words, to achieve better competitive balance.

It also, of course, further waters down the state championships somewhat. Yes, it allows one more state champion each year, and allows more players to compete in the post-season tournament. But it’s a fair question to ask just how many state championships a state can produce and still give players a truly special experience. Rank-and-file football fans longing for that uniquely intriguing matchup — that David and Goliath moment — are more likely to yawn and long for the old days.

Why not have 10 classes? Or an even a dozen?

Lots of football classes create other tricky situations as well. Only a few years ago, when there were still six football classes, the Prep Bowl was played in just one day, with the 9-man game starting when most people still hadn’t had their breakfast, and the final game finishing up at around midnight, or later. Now, however, the MSHSL schedules the games over two days instead of one — an obvious adjustment.

But you’ve just got to smile at how the classifications are named. We couldn’t have classes named A, B, C, D and so on, because Class D seems so inferior when the whole purpose is to make high school students feel good about themselves. So the MSHSL, on its website, strings along the A’s in succession, as if the ‘A’ key on their keyboard got stuck.