Almost nothing remains constant in high school athletics.
Players grow from freshmen to graduates, coaches come and go, schools shine in certain sports and then fade, all as part of the endless cycle.
It won’t be any different in those ways in 2019-20 — but in other ways this upcoming season is unique.
The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) has set a new course for their member institutions and now prep sports is headed into territory never explored in the Beehive State.
Will the changes be good ones?
No one knows for sure, although UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff is optimistic.
“There is no fear on our side because of what we have talked about with other states,” Cuff said in an interview last week. “We all have the same problems. We are all doing something a little bit different. It’s not that we’ll get to something that is perfect because I don’t think there is something that is perfect for everyone.”
Even though only girls soccer and boys golf are currently underway, some of the modifications are already having an impact.
Here is an overview of four of the biggest changes in 2019-20 and how they will impact Utah Valley:
The two-year shuffle of teams to new regions was decided at the end of 2018 but now it has gone into effect.
“The procedures and format and factors and all of those things get decided way before the numbers come out,” Cuff said. “We are going into our second term of having six classifications and, for the most part, we are getting really good feedback from everyone about the extra classification.”
In Utah Valley, the majority of the public schools are now in either Class 6A or Class 5A. The new school in Eagle Mountain, Cedar Valley High School, will compete in Class 4A this year, as will Mountain View’s football team.
“There are two alignments, a football alignment and everything else,” Cuff said. “Some states look at using other factors like a success factor. If we did that, we would almost have to look at doing a sport-by-sport alignment since why should cross country pull you one way or the other for football or basketball? You could have skewed numbers. Some states like to do that but there is a lot of chaos to it.”
The alignment is set for the next two years, but in some ways it won’t have the same impact that it has in the past, due to the change in how teams make it to the state tournament in many sports.
State tournament qualification
Traditionally in Utah, the top four teams in a region have paired up with four teams from another region in first-round matchups. That has rewarded region success but it also created mismatches because sometimes one region is at a much different level in a sport than its counterpart.
The vast majority of team sports squads will now be state tournament teams but they will be seeded based on a ratings percentage index (RPI).
“We feel like high school sports and the seeding of the state tournaments need a shot in the arm — and we feel like this will do it,” Cuff said. “How many times do you see the best two teams playing in the semifinals instead of the championship? It happens quite a bit when you are pre-arranging who will match up with each other. What this does is it tries to rank the teams that as you go through the state tournament, the best teams will be at the end.”
The basic formula — which is run by MaxPreps.com — is that a team’s winning percentage will account for 40 percent of the RPI value, while its opponent’s winning percentage will make up another 40 percent and the opponents of the opponent’s winning percentage makes up the final 20 percent.
It’s a formula that Cuff said has worked well when it was tracked in other states.
“We’re really excited about the RPI because other states have been so successful,” Cuff said. “We have been following it. It’s pretty hard to manipulate it. We’ve told schools to schedule how they have always scheduled and if they are a good team, they will be at the top of the RPI.”
In general, the top eight teams will get first-round byes while teams ranked from No. 9 to No. 24 will square off in first-round matchups.
“I think there will be a lot of good matchups in the first rounds,” Cuff said. “I think it will be exciting when it comes playoff time.”
A new sanctioned sport
Since the addition of girls golf a decade ago, the UHSAA hasn’t added any new sanctioned sports. There has been interest expressed from representatives of sports like bowling, hockey, water polo, archery and others — but Cuff said it isn’t always a simple matter.
“If you get sanctioned, there are pros and cons,” Cuff said. “You have to keep contest rules. You can’t play however many games you want to play. You have scholastic rules where you need a certain GPA. Some club sports haven’t wanted to move into that area. But the pros are that you represent your school with a coach associated with the school.”
This year, the UHSAA elected to add boys and girls lacrosse. It’s something Cuff said has been a long time in coming.
“This is my 19th year and they were talking about lacrosse before I got here,” Cuff said. “The lacrosse association at one point came to our Board of Trustees and said that the boys might be ready but they wanted to add girls at the same time. The lacrosse community was very patient to let the girls sport grow.”
Both lacrosse teams will play in the spring sports season, beginning in 2020.
One of the biggest concerns for Cuff and the UHSAA in general has been the increasing trend of negative sportsmanship.
“The entitlement is out of hand,” Cuff said. “It’s a bad commentary of where we are at as a society but the result might be that we aren’t going to have enough officials to officiate the games. You have to have officials or you don’t play the games. If you were to poll officials, 80 to 90% of officials leave the game because of fan sportsmanship.”
One of the changes made for the 2019-20 season is that not only can players and coaches be ejected from a game for poor sportsmanship, but fans can be ejected as well.
“We are using the yellow card (warning), red card (ejection) system with fans,” Cuff said. “We’re putting the responsibility on administrators to enforce those during the season because we can’t be everywhere.”
Cuff said the sportsmanship handbook was also updated to specifically clarify that racial slurs won’t be tolerated instead of it just being understood.
For complete details on sportsmanship and answers to other questions, go to http://UHSAA.org.