The Gretna boys basketball team nearly qualifying for the Class A state tournament with an 0-1 record against A competition and having two Class B schools in the Class A basketball scheduling matrix this past season prompted the Class A athletic directors/administrators into action in March.
The result is a Class A-only proposal that will be in front of the Nebraska School Activities Association board of directors during their April meeting on Thursday in Lincoln. It will fundamentally change not only Class A basketball, but all Class A sports outside of football.
The recommendation that came out of the NSAA classification committee meeting on March 21 is for Class A to consist of schools with enrollments of 850 or more for all sports with reclassification occurring every two years. It would go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.
The sports outside of football currently reclassify every year with the largest 28 schools making up Class A. Using a firm enrollment number of 850 and above, Class A will grow to 33 schools (including Creighton Prep on the boys side, Omaha Marian on the girls side) for the next two years in all sports except football.
Football is in the middle of its current two-year cycle with Class A consisting of schools with a boys enrollment of 425 or greater. There are currently 32 schools — South Sioux City opted down to Class B, making the Cardinals ineligible for the football playoffs.
A year ago, the NSAA went to gender enrollment-based classification for football, volleyball, softball, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls golf, and boys and girls soccer.
That caused some schools in basketball, such as Elkhorn South and Lincoln Pius X, to be Class A on one side (Elkhorn South boys and Pius X girls) and Class B on the other (Elkhorn South girls and Pius X boys). And because the Class A scheduling matrix is closed to the other Class B schools and B schools get a two-point bonus for every Class A opponent they play, the Elkhorn South girls and Pius X boys picked up 42 and 40 wild-card points, respectively, that were not available to anyone else in Class B simply because the Storm and Thunderbolts were part of the matrix.
The supporters of the measure say it will provide clarity and consistency between both genders and sports as to which schools will be in Class A. It will also ensure that every member of the Metro and Heartland Athletic conferences will be in Class A in every sport.
They also believe that going to two-year cycles in classification will make it easier for smaller schools in Class A that are not members of the Metro or HAC to pick up A games through the matrix. Gretna, which moved up from Class B to A last season, did not have a Class A basketball game on its regular-season schedule this past winter and was not part of the matrix.
The Dragons were second in the wild-card standings heading into districts but lost their first-round district game to Lincoln Northeast. Gretna had the wild card into the state tournament locked up before a last-second Donovan Williams three-pointer gave Lincoln North Star a district final win at Kearney. The Bearcats then edged Gretna for the wild card into state.
Going with two-year classification cycles with firm enrollment numbers as the baseline “is the last piece to help provide the stability that the small Class A's need to get into an A schedule,” said Omaha Public Schools activities director Steve Eubanks, who helps lead the Class A matrix scheduling process.