Two years after shaking up its format and shifting to a six-classification model that included new conference and regional groupings, the Virginia High School League will roll out a new setup reminiscent of its past, beginning with the 2017-18 season.
Citing geographical issues that impacted rivalries, travel and the gate for games, the VHSL will scrap its 49 conferences and return to district play across all sports among its 316 member schools. The districts will be built upon a new 24-region alignment, divided into four regions per classification, replacing the current North and South divisions.
The VHSL hopes the change will alleviate scheduling issues and help prevent the $240,000 deficit it experienced in the 2013-14 fiscal year, its first following the realignment from a three-tiered format to a six-class model.
“The original intent was not for the conferences to become a scheduling mechanism, but unfortunately, that became more of the thinking, and that created issues with geography, finances and keeping with old rivalries,” VHSL assistant director of compliance Tom Dolan said. “The rationale in getting rid of the conferences while still accounting for the difference in size among schools was to make the regions smaller and put the emphasis back on district play.”
Two of the four regions in Class 6A, the state’s largest classification, will be made up of schools from Fairfax and Prince William counties, with the likes of Hylton, Lake Braddock and Woodbridge in Region 3 and Madison, Stonewall Jackson and Westfield in Region 4.
Meanwhile, the 5A North region will feature a mix of Fairfax and Loudoun County schools, such as Stone Bridge and Wakefield, while Potomac joins the 5A West region. Champe, Freedom-South Riding, Rock Ridge and Woodgrove may also join Class 5A after the school enrollment figures are released in the spring. Until then, they are pitted with fellow Loudoun County schools Heritage and Loudoun Valley in Class 4A North.
The new region breakdown will mark a return to the previous playoff format. The postseason will begin with the district tournament, followed by an eight-team region bracket. The four winners of each region then advance to a state tournament that will determine the overall class champion. The one exception is football, which will continue to use a power points system to determine seedings and pairings for region tournaments.
“It’s probably more appropriate that way, where there’s a chance to have a meaningful regional title,” Chantilly football Coach Mike Lalli said. “Ours doesn’t adjust much, but with Prince William schools like Hylton, instead of having to play Virginia Beach teams in the South section, now they are back in a smaller geographic region with schools that are actually close by and you can take a little more pride in winning your area.”
The VHSL will release the new district breakdown following Wednesday’s appeals meeting. The proposed districts will not entirely mirror their previous makeup. Madison is requesting to move from its newly assigned district with Concorde District/Conference 5 stalwarts Centreville, Chantilly, Oakton and Westfield to another within Class 6A Region 4 including Herndon, Langley, McLean, South Lakes, Washington-Lee and Yorktown. After Wednesday’s meeting, the proposed plan will then go to the executive committee for final approval in February.
“It may be a little out of the box, but with Virginia being an oddly shaped state with some geographic barriers, we think this is the best plan based on the feedback we gathered from schools,” Dolan said.