Promotion and relegation in high school sports? I say yes | Commentary

Keeping a balance in each sport is more important than basing athletic competition on school population.

As many now know, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) has finished its reclassification cycle across the state for 2024-28.

Schools have moved up or down in their competition level based on the adjusted enrollment number of every school’s population.

I don’t think that is the most effective strategy to balance athletics across the state and I’ll explain why. I’ll also explain how to fix it.

The main problem is numbers. Schools’ athletic competition level shouldn’t be dictated by the total number of students. If a school has 1,200 students, it’s not guaranteed that the school’s baseball team has the numbers to fill an entire program.

Student population in my eyes does not equal the highest level of athletic competition. Even look at North Kitsap’s boys basketball team, beating 4A and 3A schools as just a 2A program.

My answer to this problem is not something unheard of. Outlandish? Maybe.

The classification of each schools’ athletics should be classified by the talent of player and team. That is why I am proposing a promotion and relegation type of classification system. Popular because of European soccer, promotion and relegation works because it focuses on each school’s team in their specific sport — not the number of students attending a school.

What is nice about this style is each class is specific for each sport. School A’s girls basketball can be 4A, while its boys basketball and football can compete at 2A, for example. This allows teams to be competitive in their own sport and not have that competitiveness compromised because of student population.

Another benefit to this system is that teams have the opportunity to rise through the ranks. If School A had a girls soccer team that started in 2A, they can be promoted all the way to 4A if they win regular season games and are in a promotion position. This school would have been stuck in 2A for four years playing games against weaker opponents in the old system rather than improving and playing new opponents every year. Also, if School B’s girls’ team is just fine around .500 in 3A, they won’t be forced to move up or down because of off-the-field numbers.

The one negative is teams can be relegated or move down divisions in a time where protecting feelings is more prevalent as ever. But that’s OK. Failure is an intricate part of sports. No one will win every game. Every year, there will be ups and downs. What is great is a team that gets relegated has the chance to move back up the next season.

It may be unorthodox, but give it a chance. For example, take a look at the South King County area. With the KingCo league and NPSL, there are three levels of sport: 2A, 3A and 4A. If schools are initially divided up based on regular season record and put into a class, by that we can now have our first grouping.

However, it can also give meaning to end-of-the-season games between two teams in a relegation battle. Right now, it may not be a game that means much. But if there is something on the line, kids might have a little more juice to go out on a high note.

What problems may people have because of this system? One might be transportation. That is a valid question, but the answer is simple. These teams already travel for non-conference games, plus everywhere in the state, there are these regions of teams that consist of multiple classifications that can create pods of different levels of play.

The key to this idea? The focus is on the field, court or mat. Not on population. Which at the end of the day doesn’t guarantee the kids play the sports. It also can be different for every sport, which can be beneficial for the teams because their talent will be on the same level as their opponents.

At the end of the day, a system like this would take a lot more work behind the scenes. Making schedules against different teams for each individual sport would take a bit more time. But the work would be more rewarding because everyone would have a chance to compete in a league that has similar skills and talent.

It would take a dramatic shift for the WIAA to accomplish this, and it likely will never happen. But in my opinion, there is a way to stop teams getting beaten by 50-plus points in basketball and 40 in football and whatever else. You just have to look across the pond.

Sports reporter Ben Ray can be reached at