With the addition of DuBois to the District 9 League next year came another move to balance out the now 22-team membership into its three-division setup.
Brockway, members of the Large School over the first cycle of the new league, will join the Small School South with Redbank Valley, Curwensville, Elk County Catholic, Union/A-C Valley and Keystone.
The Rovers play those five teams along with Smethport, Coudersport, Otto-Eldred and Port Allegany. See the accompanying story with the schedules listed.
Where the now-Class AA Rovers fall into the next classification cycle that begins next school year is still unknown, but that’s not what the league uses at its sole determination of where programs get placed anyway. The whole Large School Division is Class AA or larger right now with the only other Class AA team — Keystone — in the Small School South. The rest of the two small school divisions are Class A teams.
Obviously, the largest and the smallest are placed accordingly, but the teams in the middle of the classifications can go either way. The league’s primary goal of competitive balance led to the Rovers first being asked if they were interested in moving, which they did.
“We lost 18 seniors to graduation last year, our numbers are low this year and we’re expected to be low to decent for the next cycle and the league came to us and asked us since we were in the middle and with DuBois coming in, would be it be an option for us,” Brockway Athletic Director Pete Grecco said. “We talked to staff and administration and we came up with the best solution that the small school best fit for the next cycle. After that, if we’re back to better numbers and competitive, we want to get back to the Large School.”
The Rovers headed into the weekend at 1-6, their only win coming against now one-win Bradford. With freshman dressing with the JV/Varsity team, Brockway’s junior high program of seventh-and-eighth graders consists of 14 players.
“We have big group in (youth football) coming up with a lot of kids involved there, so we’re expecting numbers to go up but we have to do what’s best for the program,” Grecco said. “This is what we like about the league. We’re going to look each two years.”
The timing is right for this specific Brockway program. Grecco noted that the boys’ soccer team scheduled up quite a bit to fit its expectations in recent years.
“In a lot of cases, the enrollment does put you in a box,” D9 League President Dave Osborne of Brookville said. “Obviously, DuBois, regardless of record, is going to be in the biggest division. But we looked at about six different schedules and basically what it came down to was that the majority of membership was happy with what we have and it was a long time in the making. We felt it’d be an easy transition and all the while helping out Brockway through a tough cycle coming.”
“In some cases you are looking into a crystal ball and it certainly isn’t an exact science.”
Not holding class size as the be-all, end-all determination on league and division makeup, the current setup actually has the 10 biggest football schools in the district in the Large School with Keystone sitting at No. 11 and a member of the Small School South.
The new cycle numbers will be known around the end of the calendar year and schools will be sending in their new number — in football’s case, this year’s eighth through 11th grade boys total with some other formulas thrown in there regarding co-ops and vo-tech students — and a handful of middle-ground schools could be playing in the Large School as a Class A or in one of the Small School division.
— This cycle’s maximum number for a Class A football school is 132 and that number could change as well after the PIAA gets all of its data collected. Redbank Valley was 131 with Curwensville at 131. Keystone was just above that in Class AA at 133. Brockway, with DuBois Central, had a number of 149. Grecco thinks it could drop into a high-Class A, but he’s obviously not sure.
— On the other end in Class AA, which had an upper threshold of 199, Clarion’s co-op adjusted number with C-L and North Clarion included was 190. Ridgway, with Johnsonburg included, was at 146.
But, as mentioned above, it’s not solely about enrollment. The time to get DuBois in and a schedule worked out was now.
“Our schedules aren’t built on classifications, so why wait?” Osborne said. “If we do have schools with bye weeks, now they have the most time and ability to go out and find an opponent with the same bye week.”
Right now, the final week of the regular season — PIAA calls it Week 9 but it’s the 10th weekend — is a bye week for all 22 teams in the three divisions. Teams can adjust that if schools cooperate and keep the mandated nine games on the 10-week setup.
The lone Class AA school in the Small School divisional setup, Keystone, is coincidentally have its best season in 30 years. While the debate is real on whether the Panthers are a legitimate threat to make a dent in the upcoming postseason, it’s an example of what the league set out to accomplish.
“We’re scared,” Osborne said. “We want to save football and we feel the best way to do that is these small schools can play like opponents and we felt that was really important to try to get rid of some of these big disparities in schedules.”
And don’t forget about the annual hand-wringing between the old Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference and Allegheny Mountain League when it came to seeding and what was fair and not fair. Figuring out what to do with a Class AA school playing a Class A schedule — and there could be more than one next cycle — could be a challenge for the D9 playoff committee. Osborne is convinced this isn’t nearly as painful as the annual KSAC vs. AML headache.
“Unfortunately, we kind of created more of a problem for the D9 committee on playoff seeding, but it’s less of a problem than it was in our old setup,” he said. “It still lends itself to question.”