STJ Tony Amerson

The Alabama High School Athletic Association has passed a new Competitive Balance Factor for the upcoming 2020-22 reclassification, but is the new version any better than the old one?

The old CBF formula initially proposed a four-year scan of data to use as a basis before settling on a three-year scan. The new CBF will use a two-year scan, but will reduce the number of points for rising, maintaining and falling in classification.

“It’s a little bit better,” Trinity athletic director Jessica Lassiter said, “but not a significant difference. The (change for data to) two years is definitely helpful, but at the same time it’s still a penalty.”

Under the old system, individual sports were ranked based on their success over the previous three years and went up a classification if they scored more than six points. In sports where girls and boys sports are linked together – basketball, soccer, tennis and track, among others – the total number of points registered over the previous three years could not exceed 11 points.

Now, those numbers have been reduced to four and seven points over a two-year period and the reclassification of sports will be withheld until those sports conclude their seasons (i.e., baseball will be reclassified after May in order to use the 2019 and 2020 seasons instead of one reclassification for all sports in December which would have used 2018 and 2019 seasons).

“I like that it takes a look at two years versus three,” Montgomery Academy athletic director Gary Nelson said. “I think that’s a little more fair. I like the way they’re doing it in holding the classification announcements until they get the current year’s data to make decisions. I think that was a good idea.”

But one thing remains constant. The AHSAA has employed a 1.35 multiplier for private schools since 1999 and despite the fact that other states have employed, and ultimately abandoned, the use of multipliers on non-public schools, AHSAA officials not only employ the multiplier but a CBF formula on top of that despite the fact the CBF penalizes any success enjoyed by private schools, thereby eliminating the need for the multiplier.

It also continues to utilize a multiplier for non-public, or private, schools but offers no limitation for public school programs that utilize the same city-wide school zones enjoyed by the private schools, such as magnet schools.

“I think there are some private schools that have had a hard time competing with the multiplier,” Nelson said. “What I would really like to see is for every student in Alabama to be counted the same way and then tack competitive balance on to everybody. To me, that would be the most equitable way to do it.”

The CBF was challenged in the courts before a suit filed by St. Paul’s Episcopal was dismissed. Ironically, the Ohio High School Athletic Association passed a CBF in the same year as the AHSAA version that applied to both public and non-public schools but that formula was blocked almost immediately by the judicial system.

While the CBF has little effect on this area’s football teams – only St. Paul’s Episcopal and Madison Academy were moved up in the initial CBF implementation in 2018 – it has a drastic effect on the spring sports, not only the private schools but the public schools that now found themselves in competition with the CBF-affected programs.

For example, St. James volleyball program had a much easier time in region play after moving up from 4A to 5A in 2018-19, but the move affects the postseason dreams of both the public schools in the Trojans’ new region (Beauregard, Brewbaker Tech, Tallassee and Valley) as well as those St. James will face in their opening round of postseason play (Bibb County, Central-Tuscaloosa and Demopolis).

Regardless of whether St. James competed under the old or new CBF, the Trojans will be forced to move up to Class 6A next year if they advance to the state tournament this year. Also, Montgomery Academy’s volleyball program is likely to be reclassified as a 4A program next year if the Eagles advance to the state tournament.

Other programs in danger of moving up under the CBF include Alabama Christian Academy’s softball program, the outdoor track programs of St. James, Montgomery Academy and Catholic and the Montgomery Academy soccer and basketball programs.

Three other programs are already assured of moving up a classification in 2020: St. James’ boys and girls’ tennis will move from 1A-3A to 4A-5A; Montgomery Academy’s tennis program will move from 4A-5A after two years of adjusted CBF play to 6A; and Catholic’s cross-country will move from 4A to 5A.

The CBF point system will continue with one point being awarded for a finish in the top eight, two points for a finish in the top four and four points for a trip to the finals. A team must score less than one point over a two-year period (or less than two for the linked sports) in order to move down in classification.

With such a low threshold, it makes successful programs in less-contested fields such as tennis unlikely to drop. Trinity, for example, is in Class 6A in boys’ and girls’ tennis and need only finish in the top two of their section – which includes Carver, Dothan, Eufaula, Park Crossing and Wetumpka – to advance to the state tournament and earn a point.

“Unless something crazy happens, you’re not going to come back down,” Lassiter noted. “I think it hurts (public schools).”

Montgomery Academy, a perennial tennis championship contender every year in 1A-3A, won both boys’ and girls’ championships in 4A-5A and will be competing in 6A in 2021 regardless of what they do in 2020. Under the current format, it’s doubtful that tennis will ever compete in the same 3A classification as most of the sports at the school.

“I don’t know that MA tennis should ever be back to where it once was,” Nelson said. “If you subscribe to the theory that this is about balancing competition, I think if MA football continued to make the third round of the playoffs that would qualify us a point, I think we have probably proven we belong in that classification. I like competitive balance. I wish that it would apply to every school in Alabama. I think it creates a level playing field, if it is applied equitably. I don’t necessarily mind MA moving up, I just wish some of our public school counterparts who are also successful would move up.”

Extending the rule to all schools rests in the hands of the AHSAA Central Board of Control. The Central Board includes 14 high school officials and one representative from the State Board of Education. All but one of the 14 officials represent public schools throughout the state.