Changes announced by the Oregon School Activities Association this month will result in smaller leagues, less competition and scheduling nightmares, local high school athletic directors believe.
The OSAA plan realigns the six-class system, moving schools up or down to reflect enrollment. It takes effect at the beginning of the next school year.
The main point of contention is an unbalanced number of schools from class to class — the 6A level has 53 schools, with just 33 at the 5A and 4A levels, 35 in 3A, 49 in 2A and 85 in 1A.
All Clatsop County high schools will remain at their current levels (Astoria and Seaside in 4A, Warrenton 3A, Knappa 2A and Jewell 1A).
“I think each classification should have a minimum of 40 schools,” said Astoria Athletic Director Howard Rub.
Seaside Athletic Director Jason Boyd is concerned with the implications on playoffs.
“I am not a proponent of putting 24 teams out of a 33-team classification into the playoffs,” Boyd said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Locally, Astoria and Seaside are now the big fish in a smaller pond — longtime 4A Cowapa League power Scappoose will be bumped up to 5A, to meet the school’s rising enrollment.
The OSAA decided not to replace Scappoose with another school, so the Cowapa League will be the only five-team league at the 4A level.
As a result, scheduling could be a problem for the new-look Cowapa. Specifically, in football it creates a bye week for one team each week after the league season begins.
“It’s going to be an absolute nightmare,” said Rub, also the Astoria football coach. “If you look at everybody’s schedule now, wherever you see Scappoose, you’d now have to put a bye. So a year from now, who are we going to find to play in Week 8?
“In basketball and volleyball, we might end up playing each other three or even four times. It’s a major issue. That’s why we as a league testified at the OSAA meeting last month, to say, ‘let’s find a way to fix this.’”
At the Class 3A level, the current Lewis & Clark League was cut in half, with private schools going one way and the rest joining two other schools for the new Coastal Range League, comprised of Clatskanie, Rainier, Taft, Warrenton and Willamina.
Catlin Gabel, De La Salle, Horizon Christian, Oregon Episcopal, Portland Adventist, Riverdale and Westside Christian will now comprise the Lewis & Clark League.
“We are very excited to move into the Coastal Range League,” said Warrenton Athletic Director Robert Hoepfl, also the girls’ basketball coach. “All of the schools in our new league participate in the sports that we do, and that will make for some great competition and consistency to our sports year.”
The Warriors should be thrilled with the changes, especially in basketball. Last year’s standings in Lewis & Clark League boys basketball included first-place De La Salle, second-place Oregon Episcopal, third-place Catlin Gabel and fifth-place Portland Adventist — all no longer there.
Chris Spencer, former Warrenton girls basketball coach and now the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Knappa, said, “I think everybody in the new Coastal league is doing backflips, because they got rid of all the private schools in the Portland area.
“I don’t how 3A and 4A are going to schedule, with not many teams in their leagues,” he said. “They created some travel nightmares, too. Rainier to Taft on a Tuesday night is going to be a very difficult scenario.”
The Class 2A Northwest League was left largely unaffected. Former league member Portland Christian — which left the league a few years ago to join the 3A Lewis & Clark League — is moving back, along with Open School East, a small private school (90 students) in Portland.
Spencer said the 2A level, with 49 teams, and 6A are the only true classifications.
You look at 3A, 4A and 5A, they’re all in the low 30s,” he said. “In most states, that’s not even enough to have a state tournament.”
With almost 50 2A schools in basketball and other sports, “it’s going to mean something when you win a state title or even get into the playoffs,” Spencer said. “All the leagues will be very balanced, with between seven and 10 teams, and that creates a real competitive level across the state.”
One of the main points that athletic directors seem to agree on is that the OSAA erred when it went from four classes to six classes to begin with, following the 2005-06 school year.
“I was not a fan of the six-class model — I wanted five,” Spencer said. “The leagues are weird, but everything is driven by football at the 4A and 5A level. As a whole, the five-class model would have made for a much more even system for the number of schools at each level. I just have a problem with 30 or 34 teams competing for a state title.”
Rub prefers fewer classifications. “When looking at it, five really works very well in Oregon, because of the different geographic regions. An even number makes sense, but there’s part of me that thinks they should look at the old four-class system, and possibly create a better post-season system.”
“From the Seaside standpoint,” Boyd said, “we were supporting the five-classification system, because that leaves all classes with at least 40-plus schools in their classification. You could have a good playoff system, good-sized leagues, and at least you have an opportunity where you’re going to get games.”
In general, Rub said, “nobody’s real happy with how it’s shaking out. The Cowapa League is not happy to lose Scappoose, and Scappoose — although they understand the situation based on their current (enrollment) — really believe long-term they still belong in the Cowapa League.”
Boyd agrees. “The general feeling for the Cowapa League is that we kind of got left out in the cold, right at the end. Twenty proposals, and the first 18 had the Cowapa with a six-team league, and the last two proposals, with everything getting settled in, they pull a team out and leave us with five.”