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High School Football: Change in merger rules may alter WNY football landscape

The way the student body is counted when schools merge their sports programs is about to change, drastically.

In a meeting held in January, New York State approved a new system that decides just how much a school’s student body counts toward the beds number — the makeup of the school grades nine through 11 — when combined with a larger school. It’s a two-year pilot program that will be evaluated going forward.

The new system, which goes into effect for the fall of 2013, keeps the student body count of the larger merging school in tact, but now, instead of every student from the smaller school counting, only a certain percentage will count in the total number.

The new regulations will call for the following changes when two or more schools merge: If a D-class school merges with a larger school, only 20 percent of the student count is added; when C and B schools merge, 30 percent of the C is counted.

When an A school is involved in a merger, 40 percent of the smaller school is counted; and for AA schools, it’s 50 percent of the smaller school — though both are less likely scenarios considering the size of the schools.

The new way of classifying schools for football have been mulled over for quite some time, this new regulation at least since August, according to board member Todd Nelson.

“We’ve thought of new combining provisions for years,” Nelson said.

While this rule will govern all Western New York high school sports programs, the effect on football is where it will hit Section VI most significantly, especially when it comes to the city schools.

Ken Stoldt, director of Section VI football, said that because of the new merging regulations, a few of the city schools dropped down a class.

“It puts us in a bit of a bind,” he said when it comes to making schedules. “Hutch Tech dropped to an A; South Park to an A; East to an A. It leaves us with just nine AA schools.”

Stoldt had hoped to be able to get most of the scheduling done be the end of February, which meant some extra work would need to be put in for its timely completion.

“We’re hoping we can make the schedule right now, provided we don’t hit any snags, and we can make it tentative pending section approval,” said Stoldt. “It’s pretty much a nightmare situation for us.”

The city schools are not the only ones creating a more complicated scheduling process for Section VI, Stoldt said. Schools like Maple Grove and Chautauqua Lake, who recently merged and would’ve been classified as a C school under the old rules, are now still classified as a D.

There’s also been talk of future mergers. Holland, which for years has been surrounded by talk of getting a football team, looks to be on the verge of merging with East Aurora, whose team numbers are dropping and is need of an insurgence of players.

The two districts have applied for a combined football program, filing necessary paperwork with the Erie County Interscholastic Conference and Section VI. With the revision to the regulation, East Aurora no longer would be bumped up to a Class A team, competing against schools nearly twice their size, which was a roadblock to a merger in the past.

A team such as Eden is in a similar situation as one of the smallest Class B football schools with dwindling numbers. The varsity has played with a little more than 20 players the past two seasons and could use a boost from a neighboring school such as North Collins, which is without a football program. A merger would keep Eden a B, but no plans for it are imminent.

While the new rule helps such programs, it also makes Stoldt concerned that teams that would’ve moved up under the old rules may be too powerful in the lower class. He said that the merger of Maple Grove and Chautauqua Lake is an example.

Understanding of all the skepticism, Nelson wanted to make sure everyone knew that this isn’t necessarily a permanent move, just yet.

“It will allow us to look at the effects it has, and gives us the chance to open it back up to discussion to re-look at things down the line,” Nelson noted.

(Mike Petro, Sun sports editor, contributed to this story.)

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