NELKE: North 4As victims of numbers game

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The 4A classification in Idaho got a little big bigger last month.

Which certainly wasn’t good news for the three 4A schools in North Idaho.

But then, they’re used to having to win their way into state tournaments.

Still, it hurts Lakeland, Sandpoint and Moscow to a degree. But as Lakeland athletic director Tim Cronnelly said, “it’s up to us to see how much it hurts us.”

PETITIONS BY five schools to either stay in 4A, or drop to 4A, were approved by the Idaho High School Activities Association at its board of control meeting at The Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Columbia, Kuna and Nampa, whose enrollment figures bumped them up to 5A for the 2016-18 classification, will return to 4A when the new two-year classification cycle goes into effect in the fall of 2018.

Caldwell and Idaho Falls, current 4A schools whose enrollment would have pushed them into 5A beginning next fall, will be able to stay in 4A.

In most cases, schools were able to petition down based on what the IHSAA calls “competitive equity” — essentially, lack of success against 5A competition. Columbia won the state 5A wrestling title last year, but struggled in other sports. Ditto Nampa.

Criteria for dropping down/staying put includes: Team sports finishing at or below a 33 percent winning percentage at their current classification at 75 percent of the time for the previous two years; and individual sports finishing at or below 50 percent of their district tournaments at 75 percent of the time for the previous two years.

Got that?

Skyview, successful in many sports in 4A, has enrollment numbers (1,334) that will move it up to 5A (1,280 or more students) next fall. Its appeal to stay in 4A was denied by a vote of superintendents.

Had the other five schools not been allowed to drop to/stay in 4A, District 3 would have been down to five 4A schools — Bishop Kelly, Emmett, Middleton, Mountain Home, Ridgevue and Vallivue. (At the meeting in Coeur d’Alene, the IHSAA voted to allow Mountain Home to drop to 3A. But 3A administrators appealed, and the IHSAA changed its mind a week later, noting Mountain Home could be nearly three times bigger than some of the other schools in 3A).

Now, District 3 will have nine 4A schools. Though there was some eye rolling at Kuna, with some 1,500 students in the most recent reporting period, being allowed to drop to 4A, which is meant for enrollments between 640-1,279 students.

DISTRICT 3’s growth in 4A schools, in particular, affects Lakeland (roughly 850 students), Sandpoint (around 1,000) and Moscow (slightly less than 800).

Usually, North Idaho gets just one berth to state in volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball. But every now and then it receives an extra half berth, meaning the second-place team faces a team from District 3 in a state play-in game. North Idaho ADs fear their region will lose that half berth.

But the hardest part is once North Idaho teams get to state, where more bigger schools potentially stand in their way.

The good news, Cronnelly said — there’s talk of expanding the state 4A football playoffs from 12 to 16 teams, beginning next fall. Now, the North gets two teams into the playoffs, but they might have lost one of those berths if the playoffs stayed at 12 teams. But if the tourney expands, the North should be able to keep its second berth.

But in the other sports, it will likely be win or stay home from state. Which would be a shame in years where there were two strong teams in a particular sport, but only one can advance to state.

“But that’s life,” Cronnelly said. “Maybe that’s how it should be — we are a three-team league.”

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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