At all levels of sports, there is one inevitable truth: teams are not created equal.
There are some teams that are really, really good. There are others that — well — aren’t. And high school sports aren’t any different.
Take a look at our local softball teams and the regions they play in, for instance. Tooele is elite. Stansbury and Uintah are solid. Cedar Valley, Ben Lomond, Ogden and Juan Diego? To say they’re struggling is an understatement.
In Region 13, Grantsville and South Summit are definitely among the state title favorites in Class 3A at this point. Morgan is a tier below them, but Judge Memorial, Summit Academy and Providence Hall are at the bottom when it comes to Class 3A as a whole.
What does this mean for our local teams? A lot of things. Mainly, they could go weeks without a competitive game unless they can squeeze in games against each other, which they have. The lack of competition puts them in a tough spot when the state tournament begins, as they have to flip the switch in order to thrive against much tougher teams.
So, given that there are always the haves and have-nots in sports, how can this issue be solved? How can we make it so the good teams don’t have to waste their time with these three-inning, 20-plus run blowouts that are so prevalent in region play?
The onus is on the Utah High School Activities Association to remedy this. I have a suggestion, though, and it comes from California: alignment based on competitive balance.
Perhaps this is something the UHSAA has considered, and coming out of a pandemic wasn’t the best time to put it into practice for the next two school years. But the next time the UHSAA takes on realignment, it definitely deserves a look in all sports — particularly now that Utah uses computer rankings to seed its state tournaments.
Geography is still a consideration when it comes to competitive balance-based alignment, and so is school size. But the California Interscholastic Federation also takes a team’s recent record of success (or lack thereof) into account when it aligns schools sport-by-sport.
In some sports, like basketball, it means teams in the same league during the regular season aren’t in the same classification when the postseason rolls around. In others, it means a league filled with small, private schools competes against public schools with thousands more students in the playoffs. However, it makes for much more competitive games, and that’s what everyone should want.
It doesn’t benefit anyone to have teams like Tooele and Stansbury beat up on teams like Juan Diego. It certainly doesn’t benefit the Buffaloes or Stallions, who tried everything from mass substitutions to having their players bat from the opposite side of the plate to intentionally leaving bases early in an effort to keep the score down. It also doesn’t benefit the teams on the other side of those blowouts — after all, high school sports are supposed to be fun, not demoralizing.
And, yes, there is a risk of this being taken too far and feeding the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. The teams that are truly bad don’t need to be put in a classification all by themselves just so they have a chance to win a state championship. But, would it be better for Ben Lomond, Ogden and Juan Diego to be, say, mid-level Class 2A softball teams as opposed to Class 4A squads that regularly get blown out? Are programs like Grantsville, South Summit, Manti and Carbon better off in Class 4A instead of dominating Class 3A every year, regardless of what the enrollment numbers say?
I’d say they are, whether the UHSAA agrees or not.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He always found it interesting to see a team from a 200-student rural California school take on a 4,000-student school from the Los Angeles suburbs in the playoffs — and win. Email him at email@example.com.