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The Changing Landscape of Alabama High School Football - Reclassification

The following is one of a series of articles on the top ten latest issues in prep football in Alabama.

One of the most discussed issues in AHSAA football is the constant topic of reclassification. Schools are classified generally by enrollment to place them in the state's football playoff system every two years. What schools are changing classifications and what regions they are competing in is always big news throughout the state. Reclassification has changed prep football in the state over the last decade.

The AHSAA instituted football playoffs for all schools in the late 1960's. Since that time, there have been discussions about the number of classes, how they should or should not be grouped, playoff finances, and private schools among other items. Over the past decade, there have been two issues that have changed reclassification that have remodeled the state playoff system.

In 2013 the AHSAA decided to divide the state's schools into 7 classes from the 6 class system that had been used for 30 years. Then Executive Director Steve Savarese helped lead the way to take the 32 largest schools in the state and put them in Class 7A. There had long been a cry from those schools located in the bottom of Class 6A that the disparity from the top to the bottom was over 1,000 students and they did not have the numbers to compete. In fact, in the last year of six classes, the biggest school - Hoover - had 1902 students and the smallest 6A school - Chelsea - had 732. Class 5A was also an issue. The biggest 5A school had 729 students in the 2012 reclassification and the smallest had 429 students. After considering different options over the years, the AHSAA decided on separating the top 32 schools into another classification for the 2014-2015 seasons.

The entire membership of the AHSAA felt the change, and it did not completely solve the problem. The difference between top and bottom in 7A was still some 970 students. The 6A enrollment difference from top to bottom was some 423 students and the 5A difference was now 191 students. But schools who had been at the bottom of 6A were now more in the middle. In each classification, there were schools pulled up from one class to another to fill the void left by creating a new class. As with most changes, it helped many schools, but hurt others.

With only 32 teams in 7A, it spread them out into pockets of teams. There were 9 schools in the Mobile-Baldwin County area so a 9 team region was created. Enterprise was the lone school in the Wiregrass area and had to travel to the Auburn and Montgomery areas, creating a 7 team region. Birmingham had exactly 8 teams and the Huntsville area had 7. Gadsden City was the odd school out and had to do their traveling to Huntsville to play their region games.

Most coaches agree that the 7 classes have been good for the state, at least giving the bottom of 6A and 7A a fighting chance. The biggest concern seems to be with the playoffs. There are only four weeks instead of the five weeks that the other classes have. With only 16 teams in the playoffs, this means that by the second week teams may end up playing someone in their own region. Hewitt Trussville had another great team in 2021, only losing to powers Thompson and Hoover, both region opponents. By week 2 of the playoffs, they had to play Hoover a second time, losing in overtime. "We need some kind of ranking or seeding," said one 7A coach, "or we need to just put all 32 teams in the playoffs." Less playoff games also mean less revenue for the school.

The other reclassification issue was how to handle the private school situation. More and more private schools have entered the association over the last decade. In March of 1999, frustration by the public schools over the private schools in the cities of "stocking up on players" led to a packed meeting of the AHSAA Legislative Council. There were two proposals concerning private schools on the agenda. The proposals said that 1) Private schools be put in their own classification for playoffs. 2) Private schools be excluded from the AHSAA.

It is believed that there were enough votes in the room to put the private schools out of the AHSAA. There were no private school members among the 32 member legislative council that was to vote.

Executive Director Dan Washburn suggested a compromise. At the time, there was a study out that said that 35% more students participated in athletics at private schools than public schools. Washburn recommended that a 1.35 multiplier be added onto the private school enrollment. Essentially, this placed most private schools up one classification. The private schools were unhappy, but most believed that without the acceptance of the multiplier, they would be removed from the AHSAA.

The multiplier still exists today. But as the private schools had more and more success, public schools once again brought more and more complaints to the AHSAA. A committee of both public and private schools was brought together in 2017 to study the situation. Out of that study came "competitive balance" and the proposal was adopted in December of 2017 in time for the reclassification of 2018. Private schools that had a top 2 state finish (finals) were assigned four points. A third or fourth place finish (semi finals), were given 3 points and a fifth through eighth place (quarterfinals) were assigned one point. Any private school that accumulated six points in the previous three year period would moved up one classification.

The private schools were outraged. There was a meeting in the summer of 2018 of private schools throughout the state in Montgomery. The schools discussed their options including leaving the AHSAA. St. Pauls sued the AHSAA but that suit was thrown out of court in May of 2019. There was talk of the same two proposals from 1999 could possibly be implemented. It was a tense summer for the private schools and the AHSAA. But competitive balance became a reality in the fall of 2018.

Competitive balance has been adjusted with each reclassification since that time. Only 2 year data is used, points for state finishes are now at 4, 2 and 1 for finals, semis and quarterfinals. The round of 16 now gives the school a score of .5. The point totals have been changed as well. More than 4.0 moves a school up, 1.0-4.0 keeps schools in the same classification and less than 1 point relegates a team to the lower classification. A school cannot drop but one classification at a time and never below their 1.35 enrollment multiplier.

One south Alabama private school coach believes that the multiplier should be eliminated. "It is a double whammy," he said. "We shouldn't have to deal with both of them." The private school matter is an issue that doesn't really affect Classes 5A, 6A and 7A. The majority of private institutions play in 1A-4A.

With the recent reclassification, there was a huge issue with whether or not the competitive balance factor applied to all private schools or just those that had been moved up by the CBF. Alabama Christian was classified 3A first, then told they would be playing in 4A because they had been a quarterfinalist in 2020 and must remain in their class. After the school appealed, they were placed back in 3A. The same thing happened to Madison Academy.

The AHSAA now has its own reclassification show on WOTM. The show is streamed throughout the state after the Central Board approves the reclassification and the 7 classes and the regions are revealed and then published on the AHSAA website.

Will there be some changes to the 7A playoffs in two years? Will the 1.35 multiplier be dropped or will competitive balance be applied to all schools, both public and private as other states have tried? Or will there be another issue that comes to light? No one knows right now but you can bet that reclassification is a crucial element to the success of any AHSAA football program today.


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