AUGUSTA, Maine — A possible five-class format for Maine high school basketball will be among the topics on a survey the classification committee of the Maine Principals’ Association soon will distribute to school officials around the state.
Declining student enrollments and the southward migration of the state’s population have swelled the number of smaller schools in northern and eastern Maine during recent years.
Eastern Maine Class D this winter consisted of 24 schools for both boys and girls basketball, the most possible under the current tournament format without adding a second preliminary round.
Those numbers are the largest for any regional division of the sport statewide, and compare with just 13 Eastern A schools in both boys and girls basketball this winter.
Under the proposal made by the classification committee Tuesday as part of its continuing effort to address Maine’s changing demographics and related challenges, a statewide Class E consisting of schools with fewer than 100 students — currently numbering 21 — could be added to complement the existing Classes A, B, C and D.
Classes A, B, C and D would continue to have two regional divisions each, though they may be renamed North and South rather than their current East and West to reflect a truer geographic delineation.
“We’re ready to make a recommendation and go forward,” said Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor athletic administrator Bunky Dow, chairman of the MPA committee that has been gathering information for the last eight months on possible changes to the classification process. “We’re looking at five classes in basketball, and now we’ll send out a survey to all member schools and see where we go from there.”
The five-class proposal, which could take effect as soon as the 2015-16 season if it gains final approval from the full MPA membership, may have an additional competitive benefit, said MPA assistant executive director Gerry Durgin.
“What we’re hoping it will do is take the enrollment numbers between the smallest school in a class and the largest school and reduce that gap,” he said. “Obviously that would help those smallest schools, but it would impact the A, B, C and D schools, too.”
Enrollment cutoffs for the 2013-14 basketball season were 705-plus for Class A, 425-704 for Class B, 190-424 for Class C and 0-189 for Class D. Of the 40 Class D basketball programs statewide this year, 19 had school enrollments of more than 100 students.
Dow said under the classification committee basketball proposal, once the Class E cutoff is established, cutoff numbers between other classes could be adjusted to balance the number of teams in each division.
Some consideration had been given to creating a fifth class of the state’s biggest basketball-playing schools statewide, but Dow said having the new class involve the smallest schools would have less of an effect in terms of overall travel costs.
Travel costs also figure into at least one other question planned for the classification committee’s survey — whether the Heal Point system used to seed schools for postseason play in many sports for more than six decades should be tweaked in an effort to narrow the difference in point value of opponents from different classes.
Currently five Heal points separate the basic value between teams in each class, with 40 points for each Class A victory, 35 for each Class B win, 30 for a Class C victory and 25 for each Class D win.
Schools and the conferences that oversee much of the regular-season scheduling process generally are sometimes reluctant to match teams against opponents from lower-enrollment classes, even if that requires the teams to travel much greater distances to face a more point-worthy foe.
Teams fear losing the chance to gain the additional Heal points available by defeating schools from a higher-enrollment class, resulting perhaps in a lower, less-advantageous seeding in the final regular-season Heal point ratings. That may make the difference between hosting or traveling for a preliminary-round contest, or earning a bye directly into the regional quarterfinals.
Often the search for Heal Points involves traveling past one or more schools from a smaller-enrollment class to play a more point-worthy opponent.
Durgin said the survey would gauge the interest of school athletic administrators, principals and superintendents in maintaining the current Heal point system, decreasing the point differential per class or eliminating the differential all together in an effort to encourage more localized scheduling.
Kevin Jordan, superintendent of schools at SAD 46 in Dexter, warned the committee that travel considerations for athletic teams are coming under increased scrutiny in the overall budget-making process amid trying economic times.
“Athletics is percentage-wise a small part of our budget but it’s still a piece that when we’re considering overall reductions has to be one of the things we as superintendents consider as we try to get a budget that will not only meet the needs of our students but also meet the needs of the taxpayer,” Jordan said.
“We understand the competitive piece and we understand the Heal Point piece and it’s going to be hard to get away from those,” he added, “but we also understand that travel piece, and some of the schedules that are put together don’t make a lot of sense and that’s the part we’re concerned about.”