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Girmindl's Ghost

A diary of Shaker High School's 2005-2006 basketball season, a retelling of Shaker's fabled 1979-1980 season, and general commentary on high school hoops, updated daily...

"I like sitting in the back row. I found that sitting against the wall is just easier on your back." -Dean Smith, on the comfort of the H-gym bleachers

NYSPHSAA explained!

Good question: I got a bunch of emails over the weekend that were some variation of the following questions:
"Could you explain how the sections/classes/rankings work in New York State?"

"I've never understood if the New York City schools are counted in basketball rankings or not."

Do NYC teams play against upstate teams for the state title?"

"What is the difference between the Suburban Council, Section 2, the NYSPHSAA, Class AA, and all the rest?"

"Was the guy who designed the high school sports setup in New York smoking crack?"
Ok, I made that last question up. But still, all of this is really confusing. It took me years to understand it. I'll take the sections/classes/ federation question first; I'll deal with rankings afterwards.


Here's Shaker's status in a nutshell: Shaker is a Class AA school in the Suburban Council of section 2 of the NYSPHSAA in the state of New York. Ok, now let's explain what that means.

Let's start with the basics: every high school in the state of New York is in one of four athletic associations:

the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA),
the NY State Catholic High School Athletic Association (NYSCHSAA),
the NY State Association of Indep. Schools Athletic Association (NYSAISAA),
or the Public School Athletic League of the City of New York (PSAL)

One confusing thing is that many private schools are in the NYSPHSAA, such as CBA. In fact, most schools are in either the NYSPHSAA or the PSAL. The other two associations are quite small. Shaker is in the NYSPHSAA. So are all the teams Shaker plays (with rare exceptions). To simplify things, just think of the NYSPHSAA as all the schools outside of New York City and the PSAL as all the school in New York City.

Anyway, these associations form the "federation" of New York State high school sports. In most sports in New York, the associations are completely separate leagues with separate champions. Teams in different associations never play against each other, and they don't compete against each other for the state championship.

For instance, to win the state title in football, Shaker need only win the NYSPHSAA state title. They would never have to beat a team from New York City or a team in the NYSCHSAA or NYAISAA. Traditionally, the big deal outside of New York City is to win the NYSPHSAA state championship. The big deal inside the city is to win the PSAL city championship.

Basketball is slightly different. If you win the NYSPHSAA title you are considered the "state champ" and if you win the PSAL title you are considered the "city champ." However, there is an additional tournament to determine who is the "federation champion." This tournament takes the champions from each of the associations and plays them against each other. All four associations participate, but it's often seen as a showdown between the best team outside the city (the NYSPHSAA "state" champ) and the best team inside the city (the PSAL "city" champ).

So yes, you can win the "state title" in basketball without playing any of the New York City schools. But you cannot win the federation title. So it would seem like the federation title is a bigger deal than the state title. But actually, it's not. It's seen as an "extra" thing for some reason. The "state title" is still the big deal for schools in the NYSPHSAA and the PSAL title is the big deal for New York City schools. That's just how it is.

Ok, fine. So what's a section? It's simply a district within the NYSPHSAA. The NYSPHSAA divides it's teams into 11 geographic areas for the purpose of sports competition. Here's the map:

(Note that Section 8 is NOT New York City; remember, NYC has the PSAL). An accurate description of Shaker woudl be that we play in section 2 of the NYSPHSAA.

The "state champ" in basketball is determined through a tournamnet of sectional champions. To win the section chapionship, you must win the single-elimination sectional tournament that begins in February. Those 11 winners than play-off for the state title in the NYSPHSAA. Those winners then play in the federation championship against the other associations.


But wait, there's more, because the NYSPHSAA divides schools into what are known as classes. Each school is placed in a class based on the size of the school. They do this to make the competition more fair in team sports - it would be ridiculous for a school like Shaker to play team sports against a school that had 50 kids in each grade. In basketball there are 5 classes- AA, A, B, C, and D. The biggest schools - like Shaker - play in AA. Here is a breakdown of classes by school size.

So there are actually five "section two champions" in basketball and five "state champions" in basketball in the NYSPHSAA. And that's why we have the classes - so that small schools can have meaningful state tournaments, instead of just getting blown away by the big schools in a "come-one, come-all" state tourney. (That's what Indiana had for the longest time - an all-comers tourney - and that's why Hickory High was playing South Bend in the championshp in the movie Hoosiers. That would never happen in New York - Hickory would have been in Class D and South Bend in Class AA).

So what is the suburban council? The suburban council is just a league of schools that have agreed to play their regular seasons together. All the teams are in section 2, but not all the teams are in the same class. For instance, Shaker is undefeated right now, but so is another Suburban Council team, Averil Park. This might worry you - will Shaker have to face them in the sectionals? - but it shouldn't. That's because Averil Park is in Class A (schools with between 500 and 950 students) and Shaker is in AA (more than 950 students), and thus won't be competing against each other for the section 2 or state title when the post-season starts.

State Rankings

The group that ranks basketball teams - the New York State Sportwriters - doesn't break the rankings down by association. So when I say that Shaker is ranked 14th in the state, that includes all the teams in the state, not just the teams in the NYSPHSAA. Shaker is considered the 14th best team in the state, including the New York City teams. You might call them the14th best team in the whole federation. Since there are 6 PSAL teams ahead of Shaker in the rankings, you could call Shaker the 8th best team in the NYSHPSAA.

But wait! The state rankings are broken down by class. So when we say Shaker is the 14th ranked team in the state, we mean in Class AA. But Class AA typically has the best teams, simply because the schools have the most kids to choose from for the teams. It would be rare - but not impossible - for a top 20 Class C school to be able to compete with a top 20 Class AA school.

That might confuse more people than it helps. But i hope it answers the email question.
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