NDHSA to create new division; Dickinson in top tier

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Dickinson has the option to opt down from the state's largest class for the 2021 football season and beyond. They have until September to decide what they will do. (File Image / The Dickinson Press)

The North Dakota High School Activities Board of Directors met on Tuesday to discuss the plan for the 2021 football season and it included big changes.

Class AAA is currently the largest division in the state and Dickinson is a member of that class.

The proposed changes which were approved by the NDHSAA Board of Directors will break up Class AAA and divide it into Class 11AA and Class 11A.

“They approved the plan for 2021 and it will be a four-year plan,” said Dickinson High Activities Director Guy Fridley who will be on the Board of Directors starting this summer. “Typically they are two year plans, but this one is four.”

Currently, 16 teams make up Class AAA and in the new format, Class 11AA and 11A would each have 11 teams.


In the biggest and newly-formed Class 11AA, Dickinson would be joined by Minot, West Fargo Sheyenne, Williston, West Fargo, Bismarck Century, Bismarck Legacy, Bismarck, Fargo Davies, Grand Forks Central and Mandan.

11A would consist of the following teams: Fargo North, Red River, Fargo South, Jamestown, Watford City, Devils Lake, Shanley, Valley City, Wahpeton, St. Mary’s and Turtle Mountain.

Fargo North, Fargo South, Jamestown, Grand Forks Red River, Shanley move down from the biggest class, while the other schools currently compete in the Class AA.

“If you go look at Class AAA in the west and east, the same eight teams have made the playoffs pretty much with an occasional new school to make it here or there,” said Fridley. “Competitive balance was a huge thing throughout the state and it was the key factor at looking at different things.”

In the new plan, certain schools have the option to opt down a class depending upon circumstances and schools still have the option to move up a class.

Teams have the choice to opt down if they meet the requirements of: 1. the team’s football enrollment must be within 25% of the median between divisions. 2. The team may not have qualified for the playoffs more than once at the higher division in the previous four seasons.

Dickinson and Grand Forks Central are eligible to do so for the 2021 season and their final decision must be made by September 18 of this fall.

“We want to do what is best for our student athletes,” said Fridley. “We have until September to see if we want to stay in that top class or opt down to A. We have to see what is best fit for our school. When any new plan comes out, you want to see where you can be the best competitively and have the best competitive balance.”


Teams may not opt down from Class 11A.

The other two classes in 2021 will be Class 11B and then 9B which includes all schools that play 9-man football. There are 37 schools in Class 11B which would replace what is now Class A.
In Class 11B the local schools are Heart River, Killdeer, New Salem-Almont/Glen Ullin, Trinity and Bowman County.

The Class 9B schools would be Richardton-Taylor-Hebron, who would move down from 11-man, Hettinger-Scranton, Beach and Mott-Regent-New England.

New Salem-Almont/Glen Ullin is the only school who may be eligible to opt down, but that opportunity depends upon the results of the 2020 season.

Under the new classifications, success factors will be in place to create competitive balance. Teams will earn points based on the round of the playoffs they advance to during each season. For example, making the playoffs and losing in the quarterfinals is one point, losing in the semifinals is two points, while the state runner-up earns three points and the state champion earns four points.

Teams in Class 11A and 9B who earn 12 points or more over a four year span will move up to the next largest division for the next two seasons.

If a team is an opt down team and earns eight or more points over the course of four consecutive years, they will move up to the next largest division for the next two seasons.

After moving up to a larger division, a team with two points or less over a two-year total will be eligible to move down.


If a team moves up to the bigger division and earns three or more points over the two year span, they shall remain in the same division for the next two seasons.

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