UPDATED: A Three Class System?

State representative introduces resolution urging a three-tiered basketball format, six-man football

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor

District 36 Rep. Mike Schatz of New England has introduced a resolution in the North Dakota Legislation urging the North Dakota High School Activities Association to form a three-class system for the boys and girls basketball programs, and to develop a program to offer schools a 6-man football league.

As outlined by HCR 3012, the classes would be broken down into Class A, AA, and AAA. The resolution also outlines the student body count as a way to separate the schools into the different classes.

According to Schatz, talking with The Herald via telephone conversation, North Dakota and Delaware are the only two states in the country that still limits their basketball formats to two classes. Under the current system, there are 21 Class A teams in North Dakota. But there are more than five times that in the Class B system at 109 teams.

Officially, the resolution would only be a message to the activities association, but it wouldn’t mandate them to take any actions.

“At least we’re opening up the conversation again,” Schatz said.

During the discussion among the Education Committee, the activities association sent Executive  Director Matthew Fetsch to oppose the resolution.

“The main reason for [the opposition] it is [that] the board feels they’re elected to represent member schools to which they correspond with regularly, [and] just felt classification decisions should be left with that board,” he said.

Schatz said the activities association told the committee that they had asked people about forming a third class, and that nobody wants to do it.

Schatz balked at that claim, citing many conversation he’s had with his constituents on the subject. When asked about those conversations, Fetsch said that the area Schatz represents has consistently been in support of a revamped system.

“That southwest corner of the state has been where a majority, if not all, of the three-class discussion has been generated,” Fetsch said.

Fetsch cited five different instances when the three-class system was opposed. In 2008 it was voted against by a 79-59 margin. A year later opposition cause the board to drop the issue again. Then, in October 2010, Fetsch said a group of member schools requested a straw poll on the issue and again it was voted down 110-47. Since then there has not been any formal votes on the issue. In June, the subject was briefly discuss again, but no action was taken.

Schatz’s resolution also stipulates that the activities association ‘expand athletic offerings to include 6-man football. The biggest thing, in Schatz’s opinion, is the travel. He cited the extensive, daily travel required by some of the co-ops just to practice as a reason to look into developing a smaller football league.

He mentioned the upcoming Mott-Regent/New England co-op. Those from New England (Or Mott) would have to commit to making the drive, which according to Google Maps is 38 minutes one way, which would equate to over an hour in the bus or car per day.

“Who wants to drive like that,” Schatz said.

He believes that if a smaller, 6-man league were offered, more students would come out and play. And thinks that smaller schools, like New England, could be in the same position around the state.

“At least give every school the option,” Schatz said.

But according to Fetsch, the activities association is already rolling out the 6-man football programs, with three schools committing to teams. He said that schools in Alexander, Center-Stanton, and Mandaree will all be making 6-man football available for their student-athletes.

Fetsch also wanted to add that because they are opposing this legislation, doesn’t mean they don’t support future changes to the format of North Dakota activities.

“Our board of directors, the resolution, and testifying in opposition doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not they support three classes of basketball,” Fetsch said. “Again, it’s that the decision should be up to the member schools and then the board of directors that represent them.”

Ultimately the resolution came out of committee with a do not pass, according to chairman of the education committee, Rep. Mark Owens-R.

“Basically the committee felt like, while we understand Representative Schatz’s focus with the resolution, and what he was trying to, it sounds like [the activities association] was already looking into all this and trying to manage it the best way they could with available students, available interest and available resources,” he said. “And it just seemed redundant to pass the resolution.”

The resolution was sent to the Consent Calendar. It doesn’t need to be read or to be voted on, and barring no objection on the consent calendar it’s fate is based on the recommendation. It either passes and moves on to the next chamber or it dies.

“We decided to stay out of their business and let [the activities association] do it,” Owens said. “Then we can just watch them, and if they don’t continue, if they just let it die, than Representative Schatz is welcome to remind us that they let things die and we’ll have another open discussion, and open hearing and everybody’s welcome to come, and give us their opinion and we can find out why they let it die, if that was the case.”

Schatz was the primary sponsor of the bill along with fellow representatives Bert Anderson (Crosby), Roger Barbandt (Minot), Patrick Hatlestad (Williston), Kathy Skroch (Lidgerwood), Gary R. Sukut (Williston).

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