The Yerington High football team's biggest win this season may have come off the field on Wednesday.
During its meeting, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association board approved a proposal that will allow Yerington to compete on the 2A level in football only, beginning in 2004. The NIAA board approved the proposal by a 7-2 vote that will allow Yerington to compete in the 2A in football in 2004 and 2005.
"It was a big day for Yerington," Lions football coach Cody Neville said. "It's a step in the right direction."
Yerington dropped out of the 3A in football and is competing this season as an independent.
The proposal calls for Yerington to compete in the 2A on a trial basis in 2004, meaning the Lions will not be eligible for the playoffs that season. That means Yerington will play football for two straight years without any chance of going to the playoffs as it's also not eligible for the playoffs this season.
Yerington will submit a report to the NIAA board after the 2004 season determining if it's too dominant and causing too much concern as far as safety on the 2A level. If the NIAA board is satisfied those concerns are not issues, the Lions will be eligible for the playoffs in 2005.
Lion players will be eligible for all-2A league and state teams, beginning in 2004. Yerington will continue to compete in the 3A in all other sports.
Neville said there was a concern that Yerington would "beat up" the 2A.
"That is a term that was used," he said. "I think everybody is aware that's not going to happen. I don't think that's a fear in the 2A."
Neville said that by and large, 2A schools overwhelmingly supported Yerington's proposal.
For years, Yerington had been trying to drop to the 2A in all sports. Neville said the NIAA board was more receptive to the idea that Yerington drop to the 2A in football only.
Yerington originally proposed that it be eligible for the 2A playoffs, beginning in 2004. Neville said the NIAA board became more receptive to the proposal when the condition that Yerington compete in the 2A on a trial basis and not be eligible for the playoffs in 2004 was added.
The NIAA board was receptive to Yerington's concerns about safety, Neville said.
"They did realize something needed to be done to protect kids," he said. "It was never, ever about winning and losing. Yes we will be able to compete better."
The proposal also may have set a precedent in which level a school plays in isn't solely decided by its enrollment. Yerington has an enrollment of nearly 500 students, which exceeds the enrollment of less than 461 students to be eligible for 2A.
But while Yerington has an enrollment close to 3A Manogue, Neville said the two schools have "completely different" situations. Manogue is a private school which can draw from the entire greater-Reno area.
The precedent that may have been set is that the number of football players at a school -- and not just the school's enrollment -- could be considered when determining which level it should play on.
Yerington has 24 players this season and would have been hard pressed to compete with some 3A schools that have in excess of 40 players. Yerington's number of players is closer to that of the 2A. As an example this season, the Lions played a Tonopah squad with 17 players.
The NIAA board was also concerned that Yerington's proposal could "open up a can of worms," Neville said.
"Will it open up a real huge can of worms? Not really," Neville said. "This proposal could give a little flexibility to protect the kids, ultimately."
The proposal could work the other way as well, Neville said. Tonopah is a school that may have an enrollment that drops it to IA, but may wish to stay in 2A in football.
Neville said he couldn't have continued to coach at Yerington if it stayed in the 3A.
"I would not have coached this year if they had not allowed us to go independent," he said.