Change in air for prep season, with new CHSAA policies, procedures
GREELEY — Not every “new” high school sports season is really all that new.
With an environment deeply rooted in tradition, rarely is significant, sweeping change needed when it comes to prep sports.
Bring in that next crop of athletes, strap on that football helmet or lace up those volleyball shoes and roll the proverbial dice — see what happens over the ensuing few months. Sometimes multi-month campaigns end with state titles, sometimes they end with utter heartbreak, but usually they end with something in between.
That’s the unpredictability of high school sports.
But, beginning this fall, change extends far beyond that new freshman class that could be a game-changer or that coaching change that might breathe new life into a downtrodden program.
With the beginning of the fall season here — the first sports, boys golf, softball and boys tennis, officially begin Thursday — athletes from sports all across the athletic spectrum will operate under new and modified rules.
The Colorado High School Activities Association’s Legislative Council meets twice a year. It met this past January and again in April.
The result was a rather lengthy list of changes — from relatively minute ones, to profound, new procedures and rules.
While a pair of general changes that apply to all sports will make arguably the largest impacts — changes that apply to the transfer rule and to classifications — two of the most popular local sports, football and volleyball, will undergo big changes of their own.
For many fans, the wait for their favorite local prep football team to kick off can be a long, arduous wait.
Now, the wait will be a little easier to endure.
Beginning this fall, the schedule for Colorado’s high school football season will align with that of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Essentially, everything has been moved up a week.
The official start of practice takes place Monday, Aug. 6. The first contests take place Aug. 23, around the time that Zero Week would have taken place in past years.
Zero Week — which was a scrimmage/first-contest hybrid week — is gone. Now, most every team starts that early. To compensate for the early start, teams in Class 1A 6-man through 4A will have a bye week built into their schedules.
The 5A classification will have a longer, 24-team postseason.
“I think (the new schedule) is going to benefit teams in the long run once we get used to it,” said Platte Valley coach Troy Hoffman, whose team contends in 2A. “If you really think about it, if you’re waiting until the 31st of August (for Week 1) — that’s a full month of practice. You’re having to try to keep kids interested and engaged. Repetition is one of the things that kills momentum early in the season — all that practice time.”
Arguably one of the most significant changes among any Colorado high school sport in recent years: all five classifications of the state volleyball tournament will move from the two-day, pool-play format of past decades to a three-day, 12-team bracketed format.
The year-end state tournaments, which take place each November at the Denver Coliseum, will be double-elimination up to the semifinals.
That means no more inconsequential matches early Saturday — during the final day of the tournament — between two teams that belong to a three-team pool in which the third team has already clinched the pool’s one berth into the afternoon’s semifinals.
“The upside of that is that if you lose one time, you can still make it back into the championship,” said LaVerne Huston, who has coached Windsor’s successful volleyball program for 26 years.
“If you have an ‘off’ match, you still have an opportunity. You’re not out of playing for a state championship. … With pool play, sometimes it’s tough (after one loss) to win the pool and play in the semifinals. With double-elimination, that opportunity is still there even after a loss.”
Naturally, the most significant changes are the ones that are applied to all sports.
Such is the case with CHSAA newly revised transfer rules.
Among the most prominent revisions, student-athletes who transfer without a bona fide family move or hardship waiver will now lose varsity eligibility for 365 days. Previously, such transfers were able to keep 50 percent of their varsity eligibility for the first season, in each sport, with a new school before having full eligibility in the years after.
Students may, for example, think twice now before they switch schools to play for a program their club coach runs — one of the many athletically-inspired motivators CHSAA has tried to effectively discourage with past transfer rules.
Also new this year, if a student or parent/guardian submits false information in order to be granted a hardship, the student-athlete can lose up to two years of eligibility in any sport, at any level. The previous penalty was one year.
“It takes out a lot of the gray area,” Roosevelt athletic director Joe Brown said. “The transfer rule, regardless of what you put in there, is going to be a hot button.”
If a student still wants to transfer without a bona fide move or hardship waiver, knowing he or she will miss a full year of varsity sports, odds are that student has what he or she feels to be a valid reason that extends far beyond athletics, Brown added.
“If kids still want to transfer and know they’re not going to play varsity for a year, then that tells us as an association that it’s a good move for the kid, at that point,” he said.
Before becoming the Rough Riders’ athletic director in 2016, Brown spent six years coaching the school’s boys basketball program.
He also sits on the track and field committee for CHSAA.
For his job at Roosevelt and his contributions to CHSAA, it’s important he considers factors and implications from various angles and perspectives.
With that being said, he’s also a fan of another modification CHSAA is making to its way of thinking.
Beginning this year, CHSAA is overhauling the way classifications will be created, with “competitive equality” in mind.
Enrollment has long been the primary — virtually, the sole — factor in determining which classification a school falls in.
It’s been a pretty straight-forward approach with room for little interpretation. There are examples throughout the years of teams being allowed by CHSAA to “play up” or “play down” a classification for competitive purposes.
But, they are not necessarily belonging to that classifications as much as they are being allowed to temporarily compete in a classification in a specific sport. In some cases, teams can play down a classification during the regular season but be postseason ineligible, or play in a higher class, during the postseason.
CHSAA will now consider other factors like socioeconomic disadvantages, demographics, safety concerns, competitive history, geography, enrollment trends and participation rates to give schools a more permanent classification home that may be different than the classes they’ve played in historically.
“I think that in looking at those factors, you’re going to offer opportunities for kids to be successful to rebuild programs that maybe had been struggling — allow kids to be competitive,” Brown said. “I don’t want it to feel like it’s the everybody-gets-a-ribbon mentality. No, that’s not the case with this, in my opinion. I think it’s more about just trying to equalize playing fields and allow opportunities for kids to be successful.”
Whether this was CHSAA’s intention or not, Hoffman sees such a wider range of criteria for classifying schools as an opportunity to, at least ultimately, address a debate that has raged on in Colorado for decades now: Private versus public schools.
Despite making up a relatively small percentage of CHSAA’s membership, private schools have won a disproportionate number of state titles.
“The competitiveness, and all those things, are worth taking into consideration. … so, at least the (competitive balance) can be a little bit more even across the scale,” Hoffman said.
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