Big changes coming in high school football in 2024

By Tim Bryson, Co-coach, WCCHS Cobras football
As spring approaches, it’s a good time to look forward to the 2024 high school football season, especially as there are some massive changes taking place this year.
Since 1998, high school football teams have been assigned into different tiers, based on school population. The concept is like how other high school teams are designated, but the naming of the groups and the caps for each group were different. That is changing.
*The numbers below represent Alberta Schools Athletic Association eligible high school students
From 1998 to 2023 for football only:
Tier 1 – 1,250-plus students;
Tier 2 – 750 to 1,249 students;
Tier 3 – 450 to 749 students;
Tier 4 – less than 450 students.
Starting in 2024 for all sports:
5A – 1,450-plus students;
4A – 800 to 1449 students;
3A – 300 to 799 students;
1A and 2A have the option to play six-a-side football and there is no cap for nine-a-side
Because the cap for 3A is 800, and the high school student population at Willow Creek Composite High School is in the range of 180, we are making the following invitation:
Any high school student in the following high schools is invited to play football at WCCHS in 2024:
• County Central in Vulcan;
• J.T. Foster in Nanton;
• F.P. Walshe in Fort Macleod;
• Matthew Halton in Pincher Creek.
The high student population for these schools is 717 this year, so we would fit under the 3A cap even with students from all these schools.
Such a move has the potential to dramatically increase the depth of athletic talent from which we can draw. In 2024, for example, we are in dire need of linemen, as several of our big guys are graduating. Another factor in reaching out to other schools is the fact that a 12-a-side roster must have 28 players. It will be essential to have sufficient numbers in place in time for spring camp in early June.
Is this a viable option for students from these schools? Maybe not, but we are making the invitation, nonetheless.
Part of the reasoning for these changes is to align football with other Alberta Schools Athletic Association sports. Another factor has been the hollowing out of Tier-4 in the aftermath of the pandemic. The new structure ensures that only small schools can play six-a-side (1A schools have less than 100 students, while 2A schools have between 100 and 299 students).
The Alberta Schools Athletic Association is also looking to have schools qualify for provincial playoffs through their zone, as opposed to their region or league. This would dramatically simplify the process, especially in a zone where there might be two or three leagues with football teams.
As a result of this shift, the Southern Alberta High School Football League and the Rangeland Football Conference are in the process of merging. They were the two football leagues in the south zone. There are, at this stage, two conferences in this new league. There is a 5A/4A conference and a 3A conference. The Cobras will play 3A football in 2024.
5A/4A Conference 3A Conference
• LCI of Lethbridge (5A);
• Chinook of Lethbridge;
• Catholic Central of Lethbridge;
• Medicine Hat High School;
• McCoy of Medicine Hat.
3a Conference
• Winston Churchill of Lethbridge;
• W.R. Myers of Taber;
• Crescent Heights of Medicine Hat;
• Cardston;
• Brooks (4A).
As Brooks is a 4A school, they will not be part of the 3A playoffs. In the 3A conference, only four of the five teams that are 3A size will make the zone playoffs. There will be consolation playoff games for the number-five seed in 3A, along with 3A schools that lose in the 3A playoffs.
A reasonable question would be why not play nine-a-side? There was a nine-a-side league in 2023, but it was administered by Football Alberta. This year, it will be administered by the Alberta Schools Athletic Association. I could see several small schools (or combinations thereof) establishing nine-a-side teams, but that might be a few years away. If that’s the case, the Cobras might wind up playing nine-a-side football, but for now, we are going to lean into the challenge of trying to forge a combined team and play 12-a-side football.
As more information becomes available, it will be posted in articles in the Claresholm Local Press and on Cobras Facebook Page. For inquiries, please contact myself (Tim Bryson) or Todd Lybbert (WCCHS athletic director). Registration for the 2024 season will take place beginning in May, with spring practices over the first two weeks in June.
Tim Bryson – or 403-682-9649
Todd Lybbert – or 403-625-3387