New VHSL divisions introduce era of Sections in Division 1 and 2

The Virginia High School League formally announced Football Divisions for the 2011 and 2012 seasons Wednesday, and the biggest shift came at the Group A level in Division 1 and 2 where the entire classification shifted to a Sectional format.

The East and West Sections replace the previous Region A, B, C and D format for the Group A squads, and essentially split the state in to two equal parts. With about 23 teams in each of the four sections in the two divisions, 16 of each will qualify, based on the VHSL power points system, and the state tournament will begin with 32 teams in each Division total. District titles won’t make a school an automatic qualifier, only power points will put a team into the state playoffs.

That’ll make for a five-round playoff, and once the tournament reaches the semifinals, the two sections will cross-bracket. The highest-rated team from the eastern section will host the second-highest western squad that’s survived to the semis while the highest-rated western section squad will host the second-highest eastern section semifinalist.

The setup actually has the most impact on a number of local schools. The area’s five Group A schools (Buckingham, Madison, Nelson, William Monroe and Goochland who shifts down in the fall) would’ve been in Region B under the old format, a region that was an absolute slugfest and included powers like Gretna.

Now William Monroe, who will be the state’s highest enrollment school in Division 2 joins Goochland, Buckingham and Madison County in the Division 2 Eastern Section. Nelson has been slotted for Division 2 as well but will be in the Western section.

The four locals, that should all be contenders for playoff spots in 2011 at the very least, join several strong programs like Essex, King William, Washington and Lee, Clarke County and Manassas Park in the Eastern Section. Nelson will compete for playoff spots over the next two years with the likes of Riverheads, Grundy, Stuart’s Draft and Gretna among other powers.

According to a couple of area coaches impacted by the change, the realignment levels the playing field in a number of different ways. Too often in the past in Division 2, Gretna and Goochland would face off in the Region B playoffs and the winner of that game, often Gretna, once Goochland, went on to win the state title. This setup decreases the likelihood of a situation like that, especially with the crossbracketing at the semifinal level.

The cutoff for football between Division 1 and 2, is 475 students. Higher than that and the squad is Division 2, lower than that and the school is placed in Division 1. In other sports the cutoff is different, which is why Madison County will be Division 1 in other sports.

It should decrease some travel time, a critical concern in the current economic situation, though because of Virginia’s shape and unique geography, few solutions for reducing travel costs are likely to have an extremely significant impact.

Group AA

In Group AA, the region format remains, and all the Jefferson District schools remain in Region II. Louisa, with the fourth highest enrollment in Division 4, Region II, joins impending JD member Powhatan.

Monticello, Fluvanna County, Charlottesville and Western Albemarle all stay in Division 3, Region II. Liberty, who had been in Division 4 shifts down. According to the VHSL, Heritage and Loudoun Valley, placed in Division 4, are appealing their placement due to a projected decrease in enrollment. The opening of four full classes at Tuscarora and Woodgrove High in 2011-2012 will draw from Heritage and Loudoun’s numbers. The appeals will be heard in September.

Group AAA

In Group AAA, Albemarle remains in Division 5’s Northwest Region and will be joined by Orange County, who has been elevated to Group AAA and is now the third smallest school in the region. 

For the full document detailing the Divisions, click here.