The state of states

Published 9:08 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Almost no state — and no high school sport with more than a few schools playing it — has a single-class state tournament system where every school, regardless of enrollment, plays for one state title.

The Virginia High School League, consisting of Virginia’s public schools, has six divisions for football. Most sports play in three groups, A, AA and AAA. Basketball’s moving toward the football divisions and had five divisions in 2009-10.

The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association expanded from three to four divisions for football state tournaments this year. The VIS had two divisions until 1998, then three until this season.

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No one’s going to fewer groups or divisions. It’s understandable to have slow expansion over time in Virginia. The state’s population is growing.

Last season, Nansemond-Suffolk won seven of its last eight games and beat the top-seeded school on its home field, with a shutout, in the state final. NSA earned every bit of the state title.

No matter if one of last year’s champs was a Suffolk school or not, I’m certainly not singling out one school, season or accomplishment. A state championship is a great accomplishment and worthy of lifelong memories.

Any team good enough to win, or simply compete for, a state championship should want the title to prove a lot. Currently, with the VIS divided into four divisions, there are only 9-12 schools per division.

The VHSL crowns six state champs on the gridiron each fall, but in the Eastern Region (one-quarter of Divisions 5 and 6) there are about the same number of schools as there are total private school football squads.

I realize I’m in Don Quixote’s neighborhood on this issue, and there’s no turning back the clock once there are more state championships to play for. I’ll also concede in a growing state, especially with Northern Virginia’s growth, there will be a steady increase in private schools and private schools starting football programs during the next few years.

But hear out one proposal off the top of my head.

From the four divisions, have either the top two or four ranked schools make the postseason. Two each would add one week to the overall schedule. Four would add two weeks.

Each division champ is “State Champion – Division 1, 2, 3 or 4”. From there, the four champs play for one overall state title.

In the overall semifinals, it’s Div. 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3, with the home sites flipped each year. The state final is played on a neutral field.

Sure, the same way March Madness or a BCS bowl usually turns out, the big power (Div. 1) ousts the little guy (Div. 4). Upsets surprise sports fans for a reason. Upsets happen, though, and more the point is the chance to vie for a state title that’s a title over more than a few schools.