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March 17, 2012
By Robert Niedzwiecki
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER- On Thursday, the Virginia High School League released a preliminary draft model for how teams might be grouped together in a six-classification playoff system that would begin in 2013-14, and it appears as if advancing to regional tournament play will become more difficult in several team sports.

For sports other than football (which could also be in for a change), in order to qualify for regionals, schools will now have to finish in the top two of their conference tournament, which will be seeded from top to bottom based on a simplified power rating scale.

The conference tournament is a new level of postseason competition that will bring together teams of similar size and geography, regardless of what district they compete in during the regular season. Districts are still being maintained for regular season scheduling purposes.

Every team in the state will be entered in conference tournaments, regardless of their performance in the regular season.

In Group 4A, Handley, Millbrook, James Wood and Sherando will be grouped into the same conference tournament (the nine-team Conference 21) as Woodgrove, Loudoun County, Dominion, Heritage and Park View.

In Group 2A, Clarke County will be grouped in the same conference tournament (the eight-team Conference 35) with Madison County, George Mason, Strasburg, Stonewall Jackson, Luray, Page County and John Champe.

In terms of qualifying for regionals, Group AA basketball and Group A volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball would be most effected, because those sports are already split into two divisions. About 30 teams statewide currently qualify in each division for regionals in those sports, but this proposal would reduce it to 16.

Football could also see a notable change in Group AAA and Group AA. The VHSL released a model of what football playoff matchups might look like in a six-classification system based on an altered power rating system. The playoff system would look much like the one currently used in Group A.

Group A features two 16-team sections for Division 2 and Division 1, with the sectional champions meeting in the state championship. Teams are ranked one through 16 based on power ratings.

The preliminary model features two 16-team regions in each of the six groups, and teams are ranked one through 16 based on power rankings. Currently, 32 teams in each of the six football divisions advance to four eight-team regionals, where they are ranked one through eight.

The information released Thursday is only a model, and the VHSL will hold several meetings prior to taking their first vote on a potential new classification system as well as the new power ratings and playoff systems that would accompany such a move on Sept. 20.

Still, VHSL executive director Ken Tilley said Friday there's been a lot of positive feedback. The VHSL first announced in early February that it was exploring a six-classification system for its 315 schools that would begin with the 2013-14 school year.

"Even with the people opposed to it, their opposition dimmed once they were able to see the specifics being considered," Tilley said.

Tilley said advancement through the postseason for individual sports still needs to be discussed in further detail, and that will likely be looked at when the playoff study group meets on April 16.

In early February, the VHSL released a model for an initial proposed alignment plan that kept most of the current membership of districts across the state the same for geographical and scheduling purposes.

That plan called for the Northwestern District to stay as it currently is, and it placed Handley, Millbrook, Sherando and James Wood in Group 4A. It also added Warren County to the current Bull Run District membership and placed Clarke County in Group 2A.

Left unresolved was how teams would advance through the postseason, and the VHSL model released Thursday addressed that issue with its preliminary draft model for conference membership.

Each of the six groups would be divided into two regions of four conferences, each based on enrollment numbers and geography, with conferences containing as few as five schools and as many as 10.

With the conference champion and runner-up advancing, that means 16 total teams will compete in two regional tournaments. (Regional tournaments do not have to be seeded.) The regional champion and runner-up from each region will advance to a state final four.

With four more schools to compete against, the road to regionals will definitely be more difficult for Winchester-Frederick County schools. Currently in the Northwestern District, the four Winchester-Frederick County schools only need to compete against Skyline for the two spots allotted to them in the Region II tournament for the sports of volleyball, soccer, softball, baseball and tennis.

For Clarke County, it will still compete against eight schools for regional berths, but some of the names will change. The Eagles currently compete in the eight-team Bull Run with Madison County, George Mason, Strasburg, Manassas Park, William Monroe, Central and Rappahannock.

Tilley said districts can still hold district tournaments if they choose to do so. But placing high in the district regular season or district tournament would not have any bearing on the conference tournament seeding.

Conference tournament seeding will be based on a simplified power rating rating scale. Teams will receive seven points for each win, one point for a loss to a school one level above their classification, two points for a loss two levels above their classification, etc. The total number of points will be divided by the total number of contests played to provide a power rating average for that team.

Also on Thursday, the VHSL revealed a football bonus point formula for districts where multiple classifications are represented to go with the baseline power rating scale approved by the Football Ratings Committee in February.

In that baseline scale, teams earn 26 points for beating a 6A opponent and 14 for losing to a 6A. In 5A, it's 25 and 13, in 4A, it's 22 and 10, in 3A it's 21 and 9, in 2A, it's 18 and 6, and in 1A, it's 17 and 5. Each game won by a defeated opponent in any classification is two points, and each game won by a non-defeated opponent in any classification is one point.

In the bonus point formula, higher classification teams will be rewarded bonus points for playing lower classification teams in a district regular season schedule. Two bonus points will be awarded to the higher classification team for each classification level difference between two opponents.

- Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.