Colorado's football reclassification is a move towards competitive balance in the state by evening the number of teams in each classification objectively based on enrollment.
The impending new era of Colorado prep football has been, for the most part, well received by the state's teams. But sweeping changes have the potential to impact a handful of teams negatively.
The Niwot football team, for instance, has gone 1-19 while spending the past two-year cycle in Class 3A and will move back up to 4A under the new enrollment cutoffs in 2016-17. Given the current state of the beleaguered Niwot program, the timing is n't great. Still, Niwot athletic director Chase McBride thinks the Cougars will be able to withstand the change.
"It's kind of a tough deal," McBride said after last week's CHSAA legislative council meeting. "But we've certainly got the ball rolling in the right direction. We've got 40-50 kids in the weight room and that's the first time that's happened at Niwot in a number of years. We used to have numbers like this and it has certainly been a benefit for us to have a coach in the building. That's been a big help. I'm happy with the progress and the way things are going and I think we'll be fine."
These are the new enrollment cutoffs:
Several BoCoPreps.com area schools are right on the cutoff edges:
Niwot: 1,279 (moving up to 4A)
Longmont: 1,180 (moving down to 3A)
Silver Creek: 1,236 (moving down to 3A)
Monarch: 1,741 (moving down to 4A)
Nederland: 143 (moving up to 1A)
The new cutoffs seem to increase the winning potential of teams like Longmont (back-to-back 4A semifinalist), Silver Creek (won 3A in 2012) and Monarch (won 4A in 2012). An upward move for a recently struggling school like Niwot could generate concerns about current players becoming demoralized or prospective players growing disinterest, right?
"Not even close," McBride said. "The exact opposite... 4A will be tough but that's where we belong, that's where our numbers are. There is a ton of excitement, a ton of enthusiasm. I think we should take the challenge on and go for it."
Nederland High School, which in 2014 moved down to 8-man after winning either one or zero games in four straight 1A seasons and struggling with low numbers, is in a similar situation. After playing down at the 8-man level for the past two years, the Panthers are seven students above the 1A/8-man cutoff and are moving back up to 1A in 2016-17.
Nederland athletic director Emerald Murphy on the move:
"Due to the classification numbers, we are unable to remain in an 8-man football league. We would have had to go to 11-man and we didn't want to do that because of the competitive advantage we have as an 8-man team. We ended up doing what's called 8-man independent for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 football cycle. The good news about that is that we will remain competitive in the 8-man world. Unfortunately, that requires us not to be in a conference, therefore we have no playoff opportunities.
"The other thing that's been kind of a challenge is that you have to pick up a whole bunch of games with people who have their schedules filled because they're in conferences. So, there are some challenges but we're hoping that by the end of the two-year cycle, our numbers will be such that we can either join an 8-man conference or if our numbers are up we'll just go to 11-man."
While the general consensus is that the recently-approved football reclassification is a well-reasoned attempt at competitive balance, its new guidelines present a different set of challenges to teams like Niwot and Nederland. But, each program appears to be facing them in its own way.