CHARLESTON, W.Va. — High school basketball across West Virginia will undergo significant changes in the near future.

In a 7-2 vote conducted Wednesday, the State Board of Education approved the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to add a fourth class for boys and girls basketball starting with the 2020-2021 basketball season.

The proposal is a two-year test run for basketball only and will give each school a score from 1-100 that weighs several factors: 70 percent from enrollment, 20 percent from location [to a city or county seat] and 10 percent is a combination of the economics of the county and students enrolled.

“I think this is in the best interest for the largest majority of our schools,” said Bernie Dolan, executive director of the WVSSAC. “I hope to see more people and communities with a chance to get to Charleston and thus more communicates participating. There’s something special about the basketball tournament.”

The proposal will sit in the Secretary of State’s Office for 60 days before becoming official in mid-September. It first surfaced in March at the girls basketball state tournament and took a step forward in early April at Stonewall Jackson Resort. That’s when the SSAC’s Board of Control passed the proposal 111-26, which sent the measure to the state BOE.

The matter was then up for public comment for 30 days prior to the BOE meeting.

Of the 123 public comments received and attached to the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, 88 were against it, 32 were for it and three were neutral.

A large contingent of the public comments against the proposal came from high schools in Putnam County, which include Buffalo, Poca, Winfield and Hurricane.

Several Winfield administrators, including principal Bruce McGrew, assistant principal Catherine Schoolcraft, athletic director Will Isaacs and football coach Craig Snyder spoke out against the proposal prior to the voting.

So, too, did board member Debra Sullivan, a former longtime principal at Charleston Catholic.

Sullivan pointed to a large overlapping in enrollment figures as to one of many concerns she has about the proposal. Under the new system, current enrollment figures would have Class A schools ranging from 9-481; Class AA from 126-702; Class AAA from 231-905; and Class AAAA from 827-1887.

“Do you realize how many schools overlapped in each category? I took actual enrollment scores, not scale enrollment scores,” Sullivan said to Dolan. “There’s a lot of overlap going on there. This formula is very complicated to say the least.

“People have to believe they’re being treated fairly. An enrollment number is a number people can get their minds around. But when you talk about a scale scored on distance to a courthouse, I think you have a lot of appeals based on this formula. I’m not a statistician, but I’m not confident in the formula. A lot of it will be seen as hocus-pocus.”

Fellow board member Daniel Snavely was the only other board member to oppose the proposal, which won’t have classifications finalized until new enrollment figures are released October 1.

At least half of the eight private schools will likely move up from Class A under the new proposal. Private schools have dominated Class A basketball for the better part of a decade-plus. 

Saint Joseph Central’s girls basketball team won its ninth Class A championship in the last 11 years in March. Fifteen of the last 18 Class A champions in boys basketball are private schools, including a stretch from 2002-2012 where a private school won the title 11 straight seasons. Wheeling Central’s boys basketball program has won eight Class A titles since 2002.

“The economics part seems manipulated to get the results they need to move private schools up in class,” Snyder said.

Dolan said the plan is to add one day to both basketball state tournaments, which would have each run from Tuesday-Saturday. Additionally, there would be four title games on Saturday as opposed to the current three.

“The biggest thing is the number of teams qualifying for the state tournaments over the two years,” Dolan said. “We know it’ll be more with adding another class, but we look for more of a variety than what it is now.”

Schoolcraft opposed lengthening the state tournaments.

“Why are we choosing to begin with basketball? Is adding one more day to the state tournament and taking another day of education away a good idea? My theory is it’s not,” Schoolcraft said.

Charleston Catholic tennis coach David Sadd agreed with Schoolcraft that the proposal doesn’t add up for basketball.

“They picked the wrong sport,” Sadd said. “Every school in the state has a gym. In the days coming up to this, I could sell to my friends that we have a good swim team at Charleston Catholic because we’re a half block from the [Kanawha] River. I couldn’t sell to one person that we have a good basketball program because we’re close to the courthouse.”

Dolan was also questioned on the motive behind the proposal. The SSAC’s 2018 statement of revenues showed basketball as its most profitable sport with a net gain of $397,874 — much more than the $188,510 generated from football.

But Dolan doesn’t believe the four-class proposal would be successful in the majority of other sports as they’re currently constructed.

“It couldn’t be for volleyball, because it’s girls only. Couldn’t do soccer, wrestling or swimming, because they only have two classes,” he said. “Wouldn’t do football, because it changes the whole structure and ratings system based on getting points off who you play.

“Baseball and softball probably could be considered, but with outdoor events, we struggle getting the games in as we have them now. We had to go into our extra day this year at Power Park with just three classes. In the past, we’ve had football-only proposals, but basketball seemed like the most logical choice.” 

Should the two-year test run be considered unsuccessful, Dolan said the exit strategy is simple.

“If we exit out of this, everybody goes to their original class because that’s what they’ll be in for the other sports, so it’s an easy fallback,” he said. “Another judge of if this works will be do the people come out to watch in Charleston? I’m betting they’ll want to support their community.”

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