How the introduction of Class 7A would impact the Texas high school football landscape

During the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention earlier this month in San Antonio, University Interscholastic League Deputy Director Jamey Harrison said the UIL is starting to consider further expansion to its classification system, specifically a potential introduction of a Class 7A.

“I think the 7A conversation is becoming more and more real,” Harrison said. “How quickly that will happen, we will see.”

The earliest any plans for a Class 7A could go into effect would be during the UIL’s biennial realignment cycles in 2024-26 or 2026-28. The move would also represent the first expansion of classifications since 2014-16, when the UIL first introduced Class 6A.

The plan for Class 7A would be to ensure competitive balance for the UIL’s existing classification levels, particularly Class 3A and 4A, and account for the volume of new Class 5A and 6A schools popping up around the state’s biggest metro areas.

Class 3A and 4A teams have felt the effects of that influx of large schools in recent years with the enrollment spreads — the difference between the maximum and minimum enrollments for a given classification level — rising by 120 and 40 students, respectively.

4A teams in particular have felt the brunt of the impact from ballooning cut off numbers for 5A and 6A. 

From 2014-16 — when 6A was introduced — to 2020-22, the enrollment minimum for Class 4A schools rose sharply from 465 to 515 (10.8% increase) while the maximum enrollment jumped from 1,004 to 1,229 (22.4% increase), which represented the biggest rise for any classification level during that stretch.

In short, maintaining steady numbers of teams in 5A and 6A (about 250 each per two-year alignment cycle) has meant 4A, and to a lesser extent 3A, have had to absorb the overflow of teams being bumped down from 5A.

“They’re all 5A or 6A. They might start off as 4A, but in a very short order they’re going to grow to be 5A or 6A” Harrison said.

“We’ll have too much of a spread in 4A if we don’t push some up instead of bringing some down,” he added.

The solution?

Start bumping teams up to Class 7A instead.

On top of alleviating some of the overflow that’s been placed on 4A, the introduction of a Class 7A would also serve to increase competitive balance in 6A with a cutoff ceiling being imposed.

For the best indications of how the UIL’s next proposed expansion will look, it’s best to look back at the last time the organization expanded the classification system by creating Class 6A beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

The UIL created 32 new 6A districts with 245 schools, while 253 schools remained in 5A and 186 in 4A.

This time, expect the overall number of teams and districts debuting in Class 7A to be smaller.

To estimate a potential 2024-26 or 2026-28 Class 7A cutoff number, we’ll start at the current minimum cutoff number for 6A during the current alignment period — 2,200 students and up.

Next, we’ll account for the rise in the minimum cutoff number for 6A over the last three realignment periods, which averages to a 40-student increase per period.

Finally, we’ll factor in the existing student spread among 5A teams — an average of 1,029 since 6A was introduced — to account for 6A’s new cutoff ceiling and 7A’s cutoff floor.

That gives us a Class 7A composed of schools across the state with 3,270 students or more.

Looking at the existing Texas high school sports landscape, 47 schools already meet or exceed the 3,270-student enrollment cutoff. An additional 13 schools are currently within 100 students of that threshold and 17 more are between 101 to 250 students of reaching that mark.

In total, that represents 77 schools spread across eight districts that will likely boast enrollment figures great enough to join the inaugural field of Class 7A schools.

In this scenario, the Houston area would lead all parts of the state with three 7A districts highlighted by two districts with zone proposals. Those districts would be required to play zone play-in games and a district championship game during Week 11 of the regular season.

The first of two zoned Houston districts would include a collection of Cypress teams led by Cy-Fair, Cy Woods and Cy Creek in the west zone and an east zone of Aldine Davis, Aldine MacArthur, Galena Park North Shore, Houston Bellaire, Humble Atascocita and Jersey Village.

The second zoned Houston district would contain an east zone of Deer Park, Dickinson, Pearland and a trio of Pasadena schools while the west zone would feature a trio of Alief schools (Elsik, Hastings and Taylor) as well as four Katy schools (Cinco Ranch, Seven Lakes, Taylor, Katy).

Dallas-Fort-Worth area teams would represent two new 7A districts with west and south Dallas teams in one and east and north Dallas squads in the other.

The first 7A district would be centered around four schools in and around south DFW (Arlington Martin, Dallas Skyline, Duncanville, South Grand Prairie) and four schools around east DFW (Euless Trinity, Hurst Bell, Keller, Keller Timber Creek).

The DFW’s second 7A district would encompass eight teams from what’s currently all of District 6-6A — Coppell, Flower Mound, Flower Mound Marcus, Lewisville, Lewisville Hebron, Plano, Plano East and Plano West — along with District 5-6A rivals Allen and McKinney.

A group of five West Texas teams — Midland, Midland Legacy, Odessa, Odessa Permian and San Angelo Central — would comprise one of the new 7A districts.

Another new 7A district would be cobbled together with the Hill Country’s biggest schools like Del Valle, Lake Travis and Round Rock, geographic outlier Killeen Ellison and six of the biggest San Antonio area schools.

The final 7A district would be completed by a combination of South Texas teams that includes San Antonio East Central, Del Rio, the three largest Laredo schools and the three biggest schools in the RGV in an eight-team District 8-7A.

Potential Class 7A Districts:

Region I

District 1-7A

  • Odessa (3,926)
  • Odessa Permian (3,738)
  • Midland (3,234)
  • Midland Legacy (3,199)
  • San Angelo Central (3,087)

District 2-7A

  • Euless Trinity (3,618)
  • Keller Timber Creek (3,216)
  • Keller (3,158)
  • Hurst Bell (3,087)
  • Duncanville (4,529)
  • Dallas Skyline (4,184)
  • Arlington Martin (3,674)
  • South Grand Prairie (3,340)

Region II

District 3-7A

  • Allen (6,959)
  • Plano West (5,579.5)
  • Plano East (5,445.5)
  • Plano (4,999)
  • Lewisville (4,468)
  • Coppell (4,088.5)
  • Lewisville Herbon (3,757)
  • Flower Mound (3,651)
  • McKinney (3,049)
  • Flower Mound Marcus (3,094)

District 4-7A

  • The Woodlands (4,330)
  • Conroe (4,312)
  • Klein Forest (3,598)
  • Klein Oak (3,584)
  • Spring (3,456)
  • Klein Cain (3,406)
  • Klein Collins (3,387)
  • Klein (3,218.5)
  • Spring Westfield (3,167)
  • The Woodlands College Park (3,155.5)

Region III

District 5-7A

East Zone

  • Galena Park North Shore (4,505.5)
  • Humble Atascocita (3,644.5)
  • Aldine MacArthur (3,668)
  • Aldine Davis (3,396)
  • Jersey Village (3,371.5)
  • Houston Bellaire (3,458)

West Zone

  • Cypress Woods (3,320.5)
  • Cypress Lakes (3,108.5)
  • Cypress Ranch (3,054.5)
  • Cy-Fair (3,314.5)
  • Cypress Creek (3,137)
  • Cypress Ridge (3,113)

District 6-7A

East Zone

  • Pasadena Dobie (4,209)
  • Deer Park (3,999)
  • Pearland (3,978.5)
  • Pasadena Memorial (3,429)
  • Pasadena Sam Rayburn (3,121)
  • Dickinson (3,205.5)

West Zone

  • Alief Elsik (4,277.5)
  • Alief Hastings (4,082.5)
  • Katy Tompkins (4,018)
  • Katy Seven Lakes (3,767)
  • Katy (3,466.5)
  • Katy Cinco Ranch (3,257)
  • Alief Taylor (3,012.5)

Region IV

District 7-7A

  • Round Rock (3,714)
  • San Antonio Reagan (3,462)
  • Lake Travis (3,401)
  • Austin Del Valle (3,337)
  • San Antonio Madison (3,235.5)
  • Killeen Ellison (3,211.5)
  • San Antonio Johnson (3,201)
  • San Antonio East O’Connor (3,302)
  • San Antonio LEE (3,058)
  • San Antonio Warren (3,051)

District 8-7A

  • Laredo United (4,234)
  • Los Fresnos (3,313)
  • Laredo United South (3,224)
  • San Antonio East Central (3,123)
  • Laredo LBJ (3,136)
  • Harlingen (3,134)
  • San Benito (3,074)
  • Del Rio (3,055)

Andrew McCulloch

Andrew McCulloch, SBLive

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