Realignment is always a controversial, and emotional, topic when it comes to high school athletics. Don't expect to see anything different when the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association meets in March to approve a plan that will be implemented during the 2004-2005 school year.
There's a fine line trying to mix competitive balance and enrollment sizes, especially given the spread-out nature of Nevada's geography and population, and the situation is further complicated because of the financial crunch now facing administrators.
The NIAA Board of control is considering two proposals which will come up for a vote in March. The first is to maintain the current four-class alignment for all sports -- 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A -- the second is to maintain four classes for football but cut back to three in all other sports.
The geographic-friendly second proposal is designed to cut costs through reduced travel. However, the plan has met with resistance because it would create some enrollment imbalances where schools with enrollments of fewer than 250 students would compete against schools of more than 1,000.
What can you do? Lots of ideas have been thrown around, so that being the case, I figure I've been around long enough to add my own two cents worth.
My idea would be to maintain the current four-class system and implement an aspect already used by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) -- combining schools from different classifications into one league. For example, schools from different classifications compete against one another during league play and then go their separate ways for the postseason.
Just from the top of my head, I've put on paper some possible league alignments involving Northern Nevada schools, based on geographic and competitive considerations. Of course, I can already hear the objections. The five- and six-team alignments would create some problems in terms of filling out schedules, although it would allow for flexibility that would give coaches a chance to line up more opponents of their choosing. That in turn might alleviate some of the 70-0 blowouts, and at the same time, would allow a football program such as McQueen to play opponents outside of Nevada.
My suggestion for a Sierra League would be geographically friendly (Bishop Manogue tentatively plans to open a new campus in south Reno in the future) , some strong rivalries already exist between these schools, and in any given year it could be an extremely strong and competitive league from top to bottom in any sport.
There would be some inequities in this proposal, one being my I-80 League which Elko would likely dominate in football, although there would be the prospect of some pretty good matchups between the other schools and pretty good matchups in other sports. It would also give three relatively good sized Eastern schools -- Spring Creek, with 820 students, is roughly one-half the size of Elko -- more opportunities to travel shorter distances.
And even if one of the smaller schools in a given league has its chances of a league championship reduced, there is still the opportunity to compete for a championship within its own division. One example that comes to mind is the year when the basketball team at Strathmore High in California's San Joaquin Valley -- the smallest school in its league by far -- finished winless in that league but reaped the benefits of a tough schedule and took its 5-20 record deep into the California Division V state playoffs.
That does bring up one dilemma. Playoff seedings from leagues with cross-over schools would obviously be more complicated than the current NIAA playoff system, which is pretty simple and efficient. In the 1980s, Nevada small schools operated with a controversial power-rating system. The CIF has developed its own system -- also controversial -- that involves playoff selection committees. One solution might be to designate a specific number of berths from each league into the playoffs.
No matter how this issue turns out, there is simply no way to please everybody. At some point and time, though, I suspect the financial crunch now facing schools is going to become too great to overlook. When that time comes, the question is going to be: Which is more important, being able to compete for state championships or being able to have kids compete in athletics at all?
Sierra League (current class in parenthesis)
South Tahoe (4A)
Damonte Ranch (4A, due to open 2003-04)
Bishop Manogue (3A)
North Valleys (4A)
Spanish Springs (4A)
Spring Creek (3A)
High Desert League
Mineral County (2A)
Silver Stage (2A)
North Tahoe (3A)
Rite of Passage (3A)
Pershing County (2A)
Battle Mountain (2A)
West Wendover (2A)
(Note: 1A schools now follow a similar format that combines schools from the East and West into one league for football)