NORMAN — Beginning in 2014, Norman High and Norman North may no longer compete in the same football classification alongside each other.
Of most impactful consequence, made possible by a far-reaching decision to split Class 6A football into two divisions based on enrollment, is one that could affect the Tigers and Timberwolves when the new system goes into effect.
Under the new arrangement, Class 6A will be split into two divisions, with the top 16 schools based on enrollment being placed in one and the other 16 below that.
Each division will be comprised of two districts, with one of the four districts having just seven teams because U.S. Grant was recently given independent status by the OSSAA. The top four teams in each district will advance to the playoffs, which, though a round shorter than the previous bracket, will still begin immediately following the end of the regular season.
The arrangement was approved Thursday over another that would have kept the district arrangement as is, but then broken the class off into two playoff brackets based on attendance.
The vote was 25-5, with Tulsa Union abstaining and another school not voting. Based upon a previous OSSAA decision, retaining the old format was not an option.
Both Norman schools voted in favor of the newly-approved system in what Athletic Director Frank Thompson called a unanimous decision.
“When the options came out, we met with district administrators, principals, site athletics coordinators and head coaches and discussed the two options we had,” he said. “We went with the option that we felt was best for Norman public schools.”
Though the Crosstown Clash between NHS and North won’t be affected, it is possible the two schools will no longer be marching toward the same title.
Using 2012 school year numbers, NHS is 16th in the state in terms of average daily membership (ADM), a figure used to determine the average number of students attending school daily, and also the figure the OSSAA uses to determine the athletic classifications of the state’s high schools, from Class 6A to Class C.
Class 6A’s new divisions will be drawn up in late June when the OSSAA receives new ADM numbers.
While the decision to adopt the proposal may have been unanimous, unequivocal support for the new system was not. NHS coach Greg Nation said there was a desire in those meetings to keep the current system in place, something that wasn’t a possible outcome.
He also said another option which had been discussed at Class 6A coaches meetings would have kept the districts the same and allowed more teams into the playoffs before splitting up into separate brackets, but that option was also discounted by the OSSAA.
“We all wanted to keep it the way it was, but obviously that was not one of the plans presented to us,” he said. “We’re changing this whole thing for two or three schools at the top, and you still have a huge discrepancy between the schools at the top and the ones at the bottom. You’re still talking three Norman Highs just to reach what the largest schools have.”
Being given two options, both of which would bring on major changes, doesn’t significantly even the playing field, Nation said.
“We knew there was going to be a change, our back was to the grinding wheel,” he said. “Do I think it was fair? No, I don’t think it was fair, and I think for the most part most schools would have said keep it the way it was. But you pucker up and you go play.”
At North, coach Wade Standley characterized the new system as imperfect and said it will shake things up across the state even if it doesn’t change much of the day-to-day at North.
“They’re trying to address some of the discrepancy in numbers, and they were able to do that with this plan,” he said. “It’s not a perfect plan to do it, but I think they were doing what they could to try and address those issues.
“I don’t think it will change a lot for us and we’ll still be playing a lot of the same people, but it will certainly be different and the upper districts will certainly be very competitive.”
Another apparent consequence off the change will be increased travel as the pool of eligible district opponents is cut in half, creating headaches for the East-side teams in the upper division and possibly everyone in the lower.
Though the state’s four largest high schools — Broken Arrow, Tulsa Union, Jenks, and Owasso — are in the Tulsa area, the other 12 schools are all on the west side of the state. That creates added travel for those schools, and the only way to ease that burden would be to lump the four into one district, something many are opposed to based on competitive concerns.
Class 6A’s lower district will be forced to build two districts from a handful of schools on the west side of the state, including as far south as Lawton, and a much larger slate of teams from the Tulsa area. It’s a dynamic that isn’t appealing to school officials grappling with higher travel costs.
“Travel issues are inevitable and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Nation said. “It’s not going to be an east-side, west-side thing anymore. But we can’t do anything but go on with our business as usual and get our kids ready.”
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