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HUTTON: A seventh class class would help

Merrillville head coach Zac Wells talks with Merrillville team member Mike Pearsduring scrimmage against Lowell held Merrillville High School Merrillville

Merrillville head coach Zac Wells talks with Merrillville team member Mike Pearson during a scrimmage against Lowell held at Merrillville High School in Merrillville, Ind., Friday, August 16, 2013. | Guy Rhodes/For Sun-Times Media

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Cover story

Northwest Indiana’s biggest schools will still have a hard time winning a state title. TO4

NWI’s winners and losers in the realignment. TO5

How the new playoff format came to be. TO6-7

Pre-tournament history: Mythical state champs. TO7

The history of the state tournament: 1973-present. TO8

Updated: September 24, 2013 6:07AM



Upon further reflection after delving deeper into the numbers, I am changing my position.

The football playoff system in Indiana needs to expand to seven classes. It wouldn’t be that hard to do and it would satisfy the criteria of fairness for which the IHSAA and its member schools constantly strive. It was one of the fundamental reasons for reform for the new format, which jumped from five classes to six.

Adding two more classes would essentially mean that seven-eighths, or 87.5 percent, of the schools fit into a class that is more appropriate and fair while that number right now is five-sixths, or 83.3 percent. If you throw in the top six schools in the state in terms of student population, which really don’t care how many classes there are because they will always be in the top class, the satisfaction rate jumps to well over 90 percent with eight classes — the same bench mark the IHSAA uses to decide if it would consider a change to the format. That means the gap in student population in 7A, the largest class, would run from roughly 2,400 students (Indianapolis Arsenal Tech) to 4,687 (Ben Davis) instead of 1,900, which is what it is now. More importantly, it would create more competitive balance for one more class, 6A, which would spread from Lafayette Jefferson (1,935) to Center Grove (2,387). Those populations are more in line with the first three classes.

Almost every coach agrees that an added class won’t solve the super school problem, which is greatly exasperated by Ben Davis and Carmel. They each have 1,100 more students than Warren Central, the third-largest school in the state. But it does address what seemingly is the larger mission for schools over the last 16 years: to create competitive balance and crown more state champions.

Opponents might argue that reducing two classes to 16 and having a third at 32, with four other classes at 64, makes for a clumsy playoff system.

However, the new format has already hopelessly jumbled up years of playoff symmetry. There are 34 schools in class 5A and 32 in 6A, with 5A certain to grow. The first four classes, for the most part, have to play an extra playoff game, while 5A and 6A are taking different weeks off during the current format.

A 16-team playoff could mean the largest classes would get one or two extra regular-season games.

Or, how about this for an idea? They just end two weeks earlier than every other school.

Movement toward another class won’t happen soon, but it should happen eventually.

Schools like Munster and LaPorte were beat down for years in a class system that made the playoffs a hopeless challenge. Munster, frankly, had problems winning playoff games of any kind after playing a schedule that was mostly 4A schools. The Mustangs were part of a coalition that had enough and sought change.

That’s what needs to happen with the schools caught at the very bottom of 6A.

The new format makes it more fair for Munster, LaPorte and Michigan City, but it didn’t go far enough. More than any other sport, football is a numbers game and it should be regulated in a way that ensures the schools that compete against each other in the playoffs are roughly the same size.

Will the system ever be completely fair? No. The top two schools make that hard, but they are an anomaly. And they also don’t win the state title every year.

Schools always act in their own self-interest. To really get something done with the IHSAA requires consensus and coalitions. It could take years for some coach from one of those small 6A schools to finally make a push for another class.

Maybe not, though.

I just don’t see why any school would be opposed to having more classes.



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