Competitive Balance isn't very balanced in volleyball

St. James coach Karen Lee, based on the enrollment numbers at her school, will be drawing from a pool of 2A talent next fall while competing at the 6A level.

The first sport to go through a two-year classification period under the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Competitive Balance Factor completed its championship play recently and the results couldn’t have been too palatable for private school fans.

The AHSAA’s Competitive Balance Factor penalizes winning private school programs by elevating those programs in classification, while allowing those who haven’t been successful to drop back to their original classifications. At least that was the theory.

Of the 43 private schools competing under CBF – Class 7A McGill-Toolen can’t be elevated so it wasn’t counted – 19 were affected by the new rule, including 14 of the 22 programs above the Class 1A level. Seven of those programs will move up in the new classification system for 2020-22, while one will move down. Eleven more programs fall under the new policy, but would only remain at their current classification once CBF is implemented.

“The only thing you can do is live with the rule,” said Montgomery Academy coach Julie Gordon, whose team will be elevated to 4A next season because of the Competitive Balance Factor. “We don’t have a choice, so you’d better make the best of the situation. Right now, moving to 4A, it should be more challenging simply because some schools will have more girls to choose from. My concern is, if the rules don’t change, in six years we’re going to be competing against McGill-Toolen and Mountain Brook, where they can choose from 2,000 girls and we can choose from 75. Something’s not right with that.”

The Competitive Balance Factor was introduced in 2018 and seven programs were elevated, with 5A St. Paul’s Episcopal competing in 6A volleyball; 4A Madison Academy competing in 5A; 3A programs Providence Christian and Bayside Academy competing in 4A; 2A St. Luke’s Episcopal competing in 3A; and 1A Decatur Heritage competing in 2A.

The worst example of the Competitive Balance Factor came locally as 4A St. James was elevated to 5A despite its other sports programs dropping to 3A with the 2018-20 classification system.

Decatur Heritage will drop back to 1A in 2020-22, but would have stayed 2A with one more postseason win in either 2018 or 2019. St. Luke’s, Madison Academy and St. Paul’s will remain in their respective classifications for volleyball, regardless of what classification the other sports are classified in 2020-22 based on enrollment numbers.

St. James, Bayside Academy and Providence Christian will move up another classification based on their participation in the state volleyball tournament the past two seasons.

Those three programs will be joined by a new group of programs adversely affected by CBF, including Faith Academy in 5A; Montgomery Academy in 3A; Westminster Christian of Oak Mountain in 1A; and Athens Bible in 1A. Each will move up a classification in 2020-22.

Meanwhile, if Competitive Balance had already been implemented, Catholic, Trinity, Alabama Christian, Westminster Christian, Prattville Christian, Houston Academy, Cottage Hill Christian, Lindsay Lane and Faith Christian would have maintained their respective classifications even if enrollment dropped, putting those programs in danger of being affected by the new policy.

The Competitive Balance Factor is a formula adopted by the Alabama High School Athletic Association prior to the 2018 classification period to assign a sports specific formula to each private school based on a team’s overall finish from the previous two years. Teams reaching the Round of 16 receive 0.5 points; quarterfinals earn 1 point; semifinals earn 2 points and final earn 4 points.

Once CBF is implemented, teams receiving less than one point move down one classification (but never below their enrollment level), teams earning 1-4 points stay at their same classification level and teams earning more than 4 points move up a level. (For co-ed sports such as golf or tennis, the numbers are less than 2 move down, 2-7 remain and above 7 move up).

The Competitive Balance Factor only applies to private schools. It has no affect on Jasper, which made its third trip to the state finals in as many years, or to Spanish Fort and Hazel Green, which made their third trip to the finals in the last four years.

Based on enrollment, St. James is a 2A program that is artificially inflated to 3A by the 1.35 multiplier applied to all private schools beginning in 1999. The Trojans were a 4A program in 2018 when Competitive Balance was applied to the volleyball program, elevating that sport to the 5A level, where they were eliminated from the state tournament both years by Jasper. Now, the 2A Trojans will be competing at the 6A level in 2020-22 with Spanish Fort and Hazel Green.

“Every year is different,” Gordon said. “This year, 7A is just loaded with talent and it’s just an ebb and flow in strength in the classifications, but if it goes by enrollment, the higher classifications should be more competitive simply because they have more girls to choose from. You’re going to come across a 6-foot-2 girl a little more frequently than you are in a small school.

“It’s hard to compete against that. That’s where we’re at a huge disadvantage against the larger enrollment schools.”



Alabama Christian.........Expected to remain 4A......4A if CBF implemented*

Catholic.......................Expected to drop to 3A......4A if CBF implemented*

Montgomery Academy...Expected to remain in 3A...Will climb to 4A

St. James....................Expected to remain in 3A...Will climb to 6A

Trinity.........................Expected to drop to 3A......4A if CBF implemented*

*Those programs are affected only when CBF is implemented