Three proposals released Friday by the Oregon School Activities Association would likely impact Crater, Ashland and Eagle Point high schools more than others locally, but they also would greatly affect travel expenses and missed school time for athletes in the Medford School District.
In October, the OSAA's classification and districting committee began preparation for the four-year time block that begins with the 2014-15 school year with an eye on altering the landscape of the current six-classification hybrid league format. The new proposals — intended to generate feedback — provide for a six-class format, a five-class format and a five-class format that has a six-class exception for football.
In each, North Medford and South Medford would remain grouped with Grants Pass and Roseburg at the highest classification with a handful of Eugene-area teams, although one includes the addition of Bend High.
Crater moves away from the highest classification in each proposal and becomes aligned with current 5A programs Ashland and Eagle Point.
Those three schools have the most diverse possibilities, aligning with Eugene-area schools in one proposal, Bend-area schools in another and with some of the current 4A Skyline Conference in the other.
Local schools at the 4A level and lower are only affected by the five-class proposal, which would put current 3A teams like Cascade Christian and St. Mary's in with 4A teams like North Valley and Mazama and leave Phoenix and Hidden Valley to compete with the likes of Crater, Ashland and EP.
Teams at the 1A level like Butte Falls, Prospect and Rogue Valley Adventist are unaffected by the proposals.
"There's quite a bit of figuring out left to do," said North Medford Athletic Director Tim Sam, adding that most people want to get rid of hybrids and have larger leagues. "We have been working for months to get going in that direction."
Sam is a Class 6A representative for the Oregon Athletic Director Association.
Prior to the 2010-14 time block, the OSAA's Executive Board implemented the use of hybrid leagues in an effort to create more competitive balance and lessen travel expenses and lost classroom time. But those in non-metropolitan areas like southern and eastern Oregon were left in unenviable positions.
Scheduling increasingly became a problem, and 5A teams Ashland and Eagle Point were in leagues by themselves or with Eugene-area teams or Bend-area teams, depending on the sport.
"We need a solution for those guys like Ashland and Eagle Point, or even the Portland-area teams like Lincoln and Grant who for some reason don't fit with anyone else and have to be in a district with Redmond," said Sam. "Scheduling is a nightmare, and we try to help (Ashland and Eagle Point) as much as we can. But at the same time, we have to do what's best for our own programs. Sometimes it makes sense in some sports to play each other and not so much in other sports, and even that gets confusing since you're playing some teams once in a sport and maybe two or three times in another."
All three proposals include the use of new average daily membership (ADM) figures.
Sam and South Medford AD Dennis Murphy had been working for the past few months to develop their own reclassification proposal, with the help of other southern Oregon ADs, but they have not submitted their proposal to the OSAA. They need to change their proposal to reflect the new ADM figures and plan to submit it in time for the next public meeting of the classification and districting committee Jan. 28.
"I would like to see us get our proposal squared away and out on the table and get people to look at it and if it's not right, give us input and we'll fix it," said Murphy.
When it comes to classification of the state's schools, Murphy said there really is no easy solution.
"What you have to decide is, is this still about competitive balance or is it about bigger leagues or is at about travel?" he said. "You can't have all of them so you have to figure out what you want and go with that. We all have things we do well and things we don't do so well — maybe we'd be more successful playing up in this sport or down in another — but we have to think about the big picture here and what works overall."
Sam said the state's athletic directors voted last spring in support of a five-class proposal with larger league numbers and no hybrid alignments.
"Bigger leagues are better for everybody," said Murphy. "We've got to get back to making league championships important and it also helps with scheduling."
With only a handful of local schools that fit within the current 6A and 5A ADM levels, southern Oregon schools find that they must align themselves with the next closest metropolitan area, said Murphy.
"Did I ever think we would be in a league with Eugene, no, but that's what we've evolved to because the geography and demographics have changed so much for everybody and we have to embrace it and go on," he said. "You have to play 'X' amount of games each year, and we don't have a lot of options, so you're going to get the travel issues no matter what you do."
That's not to say anyone has to be happy about it. Murphy and Sam said they'd prefer less travel expense and more classroom time for athletes, there just aren't many viable alternatives.
"I would say that I'm thinking more globally than just for North Medford," added Sam. "Bigger leagues and no hybrids makes sense, it's just bigger leagues for us means we have to go to Eugene and you're spending more money and time for a bus. That said, it's a good thing when we get together with those teams because it's good competition.
"The arguments coming in will be, are we really going to send freshmen back up to Sheldon or South Eugene on a Tuesday week after week. I can tell you I've gotten zero complaints since we've gotten away from sending teams to the Eugene area during the week. Maybe we have to look at that being varsity or JV only because traveling to Eugene and back on school days tends to be a little problematic."
In the OSAA's six-class proposal, the ADM figures proposed are 1,300 and over for 6A, 666 to 1299 for 5A, 325 to 665 for 4A, 180 to 324 for 3A, 91 to 179 for 2A and 90 and under for 1A.
That format places the Medford schools with Grants Pass, Roseburg, Sheldon, South Eugene and Willamette to form the 6A Southern Oregon Conference.
A 5A Midwestern League would consist of Ashland, Crater, Eagle Point, Churchill, Marist, North Eugene, Springfield and Thurston.
A 4A Skyline Conference would include Phoenix, Hidden Valley, North Valley, Henley, Klamath Union and Mazama.
The six-class proposal includes a 3A Southern Oregon League with Cascade Christian, St. Mary's, Rogue River, Illinois Valley, Glide and Lakeview.
In the OSAA's five-class proposal, the ADM figures used are 1,180 and over for 5A, 580 to 1,179 for 4A, 220 to 579 for 3A, 100 to 219 for 2A and 99 and under for 1A.
The only change for the local 6A schools is that Thurston would be added to the Southern Oregon Conference, making it an eight-team league.
The 4A Southeast League, however, would provide for an interesting dynamic with Ashland, Crater, Eagle Point, Phoenix, Hidden Valley, Henley and Klamath Union. While travel costs and missed class time would be the lowest of all proposed leagues for the three largest schools (Crater's ADM is 1,139, Eagle Point's is 955 and Ashland's is 899), competitive balance could be an issue when you consider Phoenix's ADM figure is 622 and Hidden Valley is the lowest of the group at 595.
The same could be said for the 3A Skyline Conference in the five-class proposal, which includes Cascade Christian (303), St. Mary's (302), Rogue River (248), Illinois Valley (287), North Valley (491) and Mazama (553).
In the OSAA's third proposal, spearheaded by Bend Athletic Director Craig Walker, special consideration is paid to football teams and allows for a six-class exception in that sport. That proposal puts schools with an ADM of 1,316 and more at the 6A level, those from 666 to 1,315 at the 5A level, 325 to 665 at the 4A level, 180 to 324 at the 3A level, 91 to 179 at the 2A level and 90 and under at the 1A level.
In that format, a 6A Emerald League South Division would include the Medford schools, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Bend, South Eugene, Sheldon and Willamette.
The 5A Intermountain East Division would have Ashland, Crater, Eagle Point, Mountain View, Redmond, Ridgeview and Summit.
The 4A Skyline Conference of Phoenix, Hidden Valley, North Valley, Henley, Klamath Union and Mazama would be in place.
And the 3A Southern Oregon League would have Cascade Christian, Rogue River, Illinois Valley, Glide, Lakeview and St. Mary's.
For a complete breakdown of the proposals and adjusted ADM figures, go to www.osaa.org.