All by themselves

By: Grant Lucas
The Bulletin

After 11 meetings spanning more than a year, after countless hours of discussions and testimonies, and after numerous attempts to link up with other leagues, the Intermountain Conference, according to Craig Walker, was forced to settle.

The Oregon School Activities Association’s classification and districting committee met last Monday, drawing up its final recommendations for the new four-year OSAA school classification time block beginning in fall 2014.

And despite various efforts to create a league larger than what would be a five-team makeup, the IMC settled, sticking with the three Bend schools (Bend High, Mountain View, Summit) and the two in Redmond (Redmond High, Ridgeview). Bend and Summit, both with average daily membership (ADM, or enrollment) in Class 6A range, were granted geographic exceptions to maintain their 5A status.

“We tried a number of ways to try to reconfigure things, meeting, as you can imagine, a stone wall everywhere we went,” said Walker, a member of the committee and the athletic director at Bend High.

During conversations in the spring, Walker said, IMC representatives suggested joining with the Salem/Corvallis-based Mid-Willamette Conference to create a 13-team league, but that proposal was struck down by the MWC with a 7-1 vote.

Then, the IMC approached the Columbia River Conference to bring back some former Intermountain Conference schools with the addition of Hermiston, Hood River Valley, Pendleton and The Dalles Wahtonka. By a 3-1 vote of CRC representatives, that proposal was rejected — and the IMC settled for a five-team league.

“At the end of the day, it’s not really fair because the whole idea of this thing was to create competitive balance,” Walker said. “Well, we might have competitive balance in a five-team league, but we have a complete competitive imbalance in dealing with (scheduling) nonleague games, that we have to carry the lion’s share of it in our area more than any other league or any other school. We thought the benefit of having a bigger league would help us.”

Walker used this season’s Bend High and Mountain View football teams as examples, with each program playing against some of the best teams in the state in Class 5A and 6A. For the Lava Bears, Walker said, it was because those schools were the only opponents willing to schedule games.

Heading into this fall’s first meeting, the six-classification model, put together in the committee’s previous meeting in May, consisted of six leagues in Class 6A and six in 5A. But an eleventh-hour proposal by what is now the 5A Portland Interscholastic League called for that conference — two of whose longtime members, Lincoln and Grant, are currently 6A — to be reunited at the 6A level. By OSAA bylaws, the request was granted, and the fallout rippled through both 6A and 5A.

The decision to merge the PIL in Class 6A created an imbalance between the 6A and 5A levels, going from a 45-38 split in the number of schools to a 51-33 difference. The IMC proposed to join up with several leagues, including the Mid-Willamette and Columbia River conferences. By the end of its penultimate meeting, the committee joined the IMC with the CRC simply to “create dialogue,” as Walker put it, to ensure that the idea was at least discussed. And that proposal was a “hot topic” at last Monday’s meeting, according to OSAA assistant executive director Peter Weber.

“Maybe we could come up with some creative scheduling, a little bit better ideas than the way it used to be to make sure that we all play together in the sandbox between the IMC and the CRC,” Walker said. “Boy, they (CRC representatives) just didn’t want to deal with it.”

Walker said the primary reason why the CRC pulled out of the proposed conference merger was travel, both distance and cost. But Hermiston athletic director Mike Kay said the CRC’s objection was based on “a combination of things.”

“When it was determined that (Bend and Summit, the two Central Oregon schools with 6A enrollment numbers) were geographically isolated, it kind of got us saying, ‘Well, if they’re too far away to play 6A … how do you justify putting them in a league with Pendleton and Hermiston when it’s (more than 400) miles round trip?’ ” Kay said. “That was kind of the question that came up. ‘If they can travel that far, and you’re OK sending them that far, why is not OK to travel over a mountain that Sisters, Madras, Crook County and La Pine and those leagues all go over and just put them in 6A where they belong?’ ”

With the CRC voting 3-1 against the proposal to unite the two leagues (only Pendleton was in favor, according to Walker), the IMC was left where it started when the committee began meeting last October — with five teams, all in Central Oregon.

The committee’s final recommendations remained mostly unchanged from previous drafts, as far as Central Oregon schools are concerned. If the recommendation is approved, Crook County will join Madras in the 4A Tri-Valley Conference, while La Pine’s petition stands to drop the school from Class 4A to 3A.

In the committee’s previous proposal, La Pine was placed in the 3A PacWest Conference with nine other schools. But in the final recommendations, a sixth league was added to 3A in an attempt to reduce travel. That put La Pine in the South Valley Conference, joining Coquille, Creswell, Glide, Harrisburg and Pleasant Hill.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to ‘play down’ at the 3A level,” La Pine athletic director Rusty Zysett said. “We don’t believe we are playing down, we believe that we are playing at the level that we should be.”

Zysett said La Pine, currently a member of the 4A Sky-Em League, petitioned to play down after meeting all four criteria established by the OSAA, which include free and reduced lunch numbers and lack of success in a school’s current classification.. So, said Zysett, “it was pretty obvious for us to take advantage of that option.”

Also in the committee’s final recommendation, in Class 2A, Culver moves from the Tri-River Conference to the six-team Rolling Plains League. In 1A, Redmond’s Central Christian joins Gilchrist and Bend’s Trinity Lutheran in the 11-team Mountain Valley League, where the latter two currently reside.

The committee’s final recommendations will be considered by the OSAA Executive Board and Delegate Assembly in Wilsonville on Oct. 28, when the six-classification model is expected to be finalized.
–Reporter: 541-383-0307; glucas@bendbulletin.com.

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