The classification debate never truly dies. It may simmer down now and again, but it won’t completely go away.
All it takes is for a matchup between a public and private school where the game’s outcome or the series seems lopsided — this time it was the most recent Quincy High School-Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer game — that gets people talking. After the Lady Raiders beat the Blue Devils 2-0 to run their unbeaten streak in the city series to 26 straight games, some fans questioned why QND was considered a Class 1A school and why the Lady Raiders weren’t playing tougher postseason competition.
The answers are simple. QND plays in the classification where its enrollment falls. That’s how the Illinois High School Association determines its classes. It’s not based on talent or tradition or success. It’s strictly a numbers a game and the only numbers that matter are enrollment figures.
With that in mind, I was engaged in an interesting conversation at a recent soccer game about classifications. At first, I laughed and thought, “This is a really a stretch.” But the more I thought about it, the more it intrigued me. At least it intrigued me enough to do some research.
Here was the fan’s contention: Instead of basing classifications on enrollment, base them on population.
For example, Quincy’s population is 40,366, according to the 2000 census. So both QHS and QND would be classified based on that number. Why use population? The fan contended that non-public, non-boundaried schools such as QND are allowed to draw students from a 30-mile radius. That means QND has the chance to pull students from a population base bigger than any school with a similar enrollment. Instead of slapping an enrollment multiplier on the non-public schools, use population to level the playing field.
It was clear this fan had thought this plan through to a certain degree. For fun, I figured I’d think it through a little more.
If you used population to determine classification, where would you start?
Let’s start at 5,000 people. It’s a good round number. Every school based in a town with a population of 5,000 or less would fall into Class 1A. Well, that wouldn’t work because most of the current Class 1A schools and almost half of the Class 2A schools are based in communities with populations of less than 5,000.
So we’ll lower the number to 4,000. Any school in a town of 4,000 people or less plays in Class 1A.
Now, what should the ceiling be for Class 2A? If you look at the largest Class 2A schools under the current system, places like Rantoul and Herrin, their populations are around 13,000. So we’ll up it just a touch and make 15,000 the population cutoff. The two smallest classes in the four-class system wouldn’t look drastically different in most regards, but the change to a population-based determinant would have an impact on which teams were at the state tournament.
Take girls basketball for instance. Three private schools reached the final four in Class 2A — Quincy Notre Dame, Bloomington Central Catholic and Kankakee Bishop McNamara. Kankakee is the smallest city of the three with a population around 26,000. If you give the population-based idea any credence, none of these schools would have been in Class 2A. In fact, BCC might be a Class 4A school if you look at Bloomington’s population of 64,000.
So what would the cutoff be between Class 3A and 4A? You have to take into consideration how many schools are in Chicago, Rockford, Peoria and Springfield, which are some of the largest cities in the state. For purposes of a debate, I would set the cutoff at 75,000. That takes all of the Chicago schools and pushes schools from Decatur, Arlington Heights and Joliet into the highest classification. Class 3A would be feature all of the Western Big Six Conference schools as well as the Big 12 Conference schools and many of the St. Louis metro-east area schools.
It would certainly change the state’s landscape, especially at the Class 2A level.
In boys and girls basketball, five of the eight schools that reached the final four would have been in a higher classification based on population, including both state champions. In girls volleyball, three of the four teams would be bumped up. For boys soccer and golf, which are split into three classes, it would be significant, too. Five of the top 10 teams in Class 1A in boys golf would be in a higher class. The Class 2A champion and the Class 1A runner-up in soccer would be Class 3A schools under the population idea.
After digesting all of that information, you might be thinking what I originally thought. This is really a stretch. Or you might find it interesting.
Either way, it’s a different perspective on a topic that always elicits an emotional response.
Enjoy the food for thought.