The New York State Public High School Athletic Association recently established the cut-off numbers for its newly approved sixth class, AAA, to begin in the 2023-24 school year.
Reaction to the sixth class and the cut-off numbers resulting from it is mostly positive, but questions remain as to how the details will be worked out by the state and its sections.
The sixth class will be added to the seven team sports with the most participating schools besides football: boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, baseball and softball. Generally, the largest 75 schools statewide will compete in class AAA, except for girls’ volleyball, which will be 60. Also generally, the smallest 100 schools will compete in Class D, with the classes in between broken down depending on how many schools participate.
Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA’s executive director, said the issue of a sixth class has been talked about for a couple of years after NYSPHSAA surveyed opportunities to compete for state championships nationally. New York didn’t fare well.
“For example, for five classes in basketball, we have 750 combined teams. That’s one chance for every 150 schools. In New Jersey, its ratio is one out of every 72 schools,” Zayas said.
In Section II, the cut-off numbers result in six schools always being in the new class AAA: Schenectady, Shenendehowa, Albany, Shaker, Saratoga Springs and Colonie. Guilderland is class AA in five of the sports, but is AAA in girls’ soccer and softball.
“There are a couple ways to look at it,” Guilderland athletic director David Austin said. “One is, boy, that’s unfortunate. Why did it work out like that? And the other is, we’ve still got to beat everybody in our class, whatever one it is, so accept it.”
Austin feels that Guilderland — and perhaps other schools down the line — should benefit from the sixth class.
“You do this to promote student-athletes’ experiences,” Austin said. “But you’re also going to get more parity in your Class AA all the way down through Class C. The reality is it’s an uphill battle for the smaller schools in those classes to win. It’s more opportunities for athletes to participate in sectional finals and regional and state finals. Two more teams will be competing for sectional titles and one more will advance.”
But with an extra class comes more expenses. New fields/arenas to host, alterations to schedules that drive up the cost to rent them, more patches, more plaques, additional transportation and possible overnight accommodations are just some of the things facing the state and sections.
Zayas notes that there is expense in everything NYSPHSAA does, but he feels that this will be worth it, though he acknowledges the hardships.
“Since Covid, we have seen a 24 percent increase in expenses, while ticket sales decreased 10 percent,” Zayas said.
Ed Dopp, Section II’s executive director, is even more concerned about the expenses.
“It is a major concern,” Dopp said. “We are a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. We have to raise every penny we make. At the state level, most of [the sports] make some money. At the sectional level, we’ve got 32 sports we award titles in, and really, only six to eight of them make money. Now, that’s not our only revenue source; we do have dues and some sponsorships, but it will add greatly to our expenses. But I am also confident that will all be worked out.”
Austin termed the added expenses, “a challenge.”
“You’ve had a lot of schools that were, say, frequent flyers and hosted a lot of events and liked to get people on their campus,” Austin said. “They’re going to need to find a few more venues every year. But in Section II we work well together. In our case, as soon as that artificial turf was ready, we were happy to host [three sectional and regional games], and I know we’re not the only ones getting a facelift, so there may be some schools in a better position to host. I think more schools will step up.”
Dopp agrees that the opportunity for more student-athletes to get to compete for championships is a good thing, but he is hopeful that the addition of the sixth class helps the schools on the lower end.
“Our concern for a while has been the number of small schools that used to be sectional and state powers that are now requiring mergers with other schools just to keep the sports afloat. If this can help with that, it will be a good thing.”