The Enrollment and Conference Carosel

It’s time for a few more bright ideas from the reaches of my brain when it comes to the area high school athletic conferences.

The MHSAA has released its list of the enrollment figures for the 2015-16 school year.  Those recently released numbers show that Lakeshore has dropped back down to Class B.  It’s a pattern that Athletic Director Greg Younger said probably would continue over the next few years with the Lancers going from A to B and back to A.

Believe it or not, the difference of just a few students does have a few impacts on other area schools.  Notably in football.  Lakeshore is now the 2nd Class B team in a basically all Class A league.   What that means is that beating Lakeshore in football wouldn’t be worth as much as beating St. Joe.  Beating a Class B team is only worth 64 playoff points, beating a Class A team is worth 80 playoff points.

The teams playing against both Lakeshore and Benton Harbor could potentially miss out on 36 playoff points if they win both games.

Of course in order for that to matter, they would have to be able to beat Lakeshore, which is never an easy thing to do.

The move next year puts Lakeshore and Benton Harbor in the same district in Basketball.  I’m pretty sure Lakeshore would have preferred Class B this year, where the boys team drew Kalamazoo Central in round 1, and the girls in round 2.    Quick exits for each.    The moves made Benton Harbor the clear favorite in Class B this year.

And it’s safe to say, Berrien Springs, Coloma, Dowagiac, and Buchanan didn’t mind Lakeshore being in Class A.

The new enrollment numbers reveals an issue in the Wolverine Conference with Sturgis.   Sturgis left the Big 16 before this season citing travel and they were a Class B team playing in an all A league.  I should point out that Sturgis made the football playoffs with a 5-4 record in 2013 because of they were playing and winning against Class A teams which got them more playoff points.

But the Trojans enrollment for 2015-16 is at 926, which is 50 more than the Class A line.  The Wolverine Conference is an all B league.  If you remember Gull Lake was a member of the Wolverine Conference up until 2010 when the Blue Devils went to Class A and left the league heading to the Big 16 (now SMAC).

The Wolverine Conference does have some bylaws dealing with Class A schools.     The league says that schools that are Class A for two years have to have approval from 75 percent of league schools to stay in the conference and will be reviewed every year they’re above Class B.  The school also can show that they could drop back to Class B depending on projected numbers at their lower grade levels.

From the Wolverine Bylaws

Section 4            The enrollment ceiling for member schools shall be the number of students set by the Michigan High School Athletic Association as the maximum for Class B classification in the upper four (4) grades.  Any school exceeding this ceiling for their official MHSAA count for two consecutive years shall be brought up for review to discuss their enrollment trends.  They shall be dropped from the conference one year later unless seventy-five percent of the member schools vote to retain them.  This procedure shall continue as long as their attendance is above Class B.

So Sturgis can still be in the Wolverine B Conference this year and next year in Class A.  If they’re projected to be in Class A in 2017-18, then 7 of the remaining 9 Wolverine schools would have to give their approval to stay in the conference.

The problem with the Sturgis situation is that the cutoff line for Class A has been dropping for a while.   The conference is all Class B, and Sturgis right now is the only Class A team in the conference, another school is growing closer to that line of 875.  Edwardsburg is at 851.   What happens if that Class A line drops 13 students, and Edwardsburg gains just 12 students.  Then the Eddies are Class A.     You run the risk of two schools pushing that line.

A possible solution for the Wolverine Conference would be to maybe adjust their league constitution.  The whole point really is to keep schools in the league within a certain range.  Edwardsburg and Sturgis are only 75 students apart, but one is Class A and the other is Class B, but they’re two schools that are alike in enrollment and should be playing each other regularly.   If the Wolverine would allow all Class B, and a certain percentage of the Class A teams, say the bottom  15-20 percent, would keep like sized schools together and would eliminate the need for the conference to allow a team to remain in the league being near steady enrollment, but a number they have no control of dictate what conference they’re in.

The conference structure in the area will change again this summer with Berrien Springs and Coloma leaving the Wolverine.  The Shamrocks will enter into the BCS Conference, while Coloma will be a part of the greatly expanding SAC conference, reuniting with longtime rival Watervliet.   Eau Claire, River Valley, and Michigan Lutheran will also head into the BCS next season.

The one school I seem to keep coming back to is the one that is in a league (and pardon the pun) that’s way out of their league.  Benton Harbor.

Just 30 years ago, Benton Harbor was the largest high school in the county, BHHS had well over 1,700 students in the high school.  It was a slow but steady decline for the enrollment figures for Benton Harbor.  Dropping below 1,000 in 2010, with Benton Harbor falling to Class B in 2011.   Benton Harbor’s enrollment this season is 634, the Tigers will be at 631 for 2015-16.  Still a solid Class B, but still 243 students less their next closest Class B league member Lakeshore.

Benton Harbor simply can’t or doesn’t compete in many of the SMAC Sports.    We all know that sports at Benton Harbor revolve around basketball.   But it’s that success in basketball that is scaring off other leagues and conferences from letting the Tigers leave the SMAC and head into a league that has members that are closer in size than they are.

The only real remedy for Benton Harbor athletics not involving basketball is the MHSAA taking over scheduling for the regular season.  Which could do away with long time rivalries and makes area conferences obsolete and unneeded.   This option could possibly do away with St. Joe’s long standing rivalry with Portage Central.   If the MHSAA expanded the football season to 10 weeks.  The 10 other schools in the area that are near the St. Joe enrollment that could potentially fill a football schedule would consist of, Gull Lake, Battle Creek Central, Mattawan, Sturgis, Niles, Lakeshore, Coldwater, Marshall, Vicksburg, and Edwardsburg.  It’s around 200 either way of the Bears enrollment of 980.

I would actually think it would be a competitive and great schedule.   I might remove Coldwater if you wanted to do a 9 week schedule.  But all like sized schools that are within a reasonable distance of each other.

Area conference affiliations still revolve around football, with the exception of Benton Harbor in basketball.  They need to be in a league that resembles their size for sports.   A 9 week football schedule for the Tigers in a league that is close to their enrollment would have Three Rivers, Allegan, South Haven, Paw Paw, Otsego, Dowagiac, Berrien Springs, Coloma, Buchanan.

Benton Harbor 2015 is not the Benton Harbor of 1985, 95, or even 2005.  The numbers aren’t even close.  I’ll put it this way.  Benton Harbor is the smallest school in the SMAC at 631,  The largest school in the SMAC is Kalamazoo Loy Norrix at 1,580. A difference of 949.  That’s approximately the same difference between Michigan Lutheran and Gull Lake.   Don’t you think that there would be a distinct difference between the two in football?   Benton Harbor is doing that every week, and it shouldn’t continue.

But I’m not running things, I don’t plan on running things.  I just call it as I see it, and I can’t stand to see the athletes that don’t play basketball at Benton Harbor getting the mercy rule applied in nearly every game,  getting shut out in nearly every game.  Losing every game.  That’s not how you rebuild a program, that’s not how a school with a rich athletic history as Benton Harbor should be left with.

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