With the possibility of moving down to five classifications next season, McNary, and the rest of the valley schools, could be in for substantial changes when it comes to inter-league competition.
The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) Classification and Districting Committee has released four proposals over the last month for the 2022-2026 time period, and two of the proposals feature the state competing in a five-classification model. Every four years, OSAA revisits its classification and districting setups based on school size.
One 5A model has the Salem-Keizer schools (McNary, McKay, Sprague, South Salem, North Salem, West Salem) in a conference with Silverton, South Albany and West Albany.
The second 5A model features the Salem-Keizer schools continuing to compete in a conference with the traditional Bend schools (Bend, Mountain View, Summit) along with West Albany, South Albany, Silverton and Caldera, (the new high school in Bend). The Salem-Keizer schools, minus North Salem, have been playing in the Mountain Valley Conference (6A) along with the Bend schools since 2018.
The proposed 14-team league would be the largest at the 5A level.
The two additional proposals opt for the OSAA to continue the six-classification model, which has been established since 2006, and would have the Salem-Keizer schools remaining in a league with the Bend schools.
McNary athletic director Scott Gragg told the Keizertimes that he would prefer a five-classification system that allowed the Salem-Keizer schools to not have to travel over the mountain, and instead compete against more schools in the region.
“For me, a five-classification system is better for the state, and would allow us to play competitively against more teams that are in our region,” Gragg said. “Competing with the Bend schools cuts down on instruction time and increases our transportation costs. It’s a hardship for our community, and the Bend community as well.”
The six-classification system was initially created with the goal of creating more parity across the state. Gragg said that he saw a lot of parity in every sport during the COVID-shortened spring season against the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference, which is one of the reasons he is in favor of the Salem-Keizer schools being in a league with Silverton and the Albany schools.
“The benefit of the COVID season was that if you pulled all contests between the 5A and 6A teams in our region from all sports, there is strong evidence that the 5A schools can compete and often be better than their 6A counterparts,” Gragg said.
These four proposals only affect non-football sports. In 2018, the OSAA introduced “special districts,” which allowed programs to move up or down a level in football only. McKay, for instance, has competed in the MVC in all other sports for the last three years, but plays at the 5A level in football.
Special districts are expected to continue in the 2022-2026 time frame.
“All sports are seeing a decline in participation, especially in football. One of the motivations of moving up or down is that it gives schools the opportunity to grow programs. If a team struggles, it might make more sense for them to move down,” Gragg said. “It’s a true contact sport where you have to think about public safety more than other sports. Our main goal is to increase participation and competitive balance to the best of our ability.”
The OSAA Classification and Redistricting Committee will meet again on Monday, Oct. 11 and will likely listen to feedback on their first four proposals, as well as create another two conference realignment models. The committee will also meet twice in November before making a final decision on Dec. 13.
Matt Rawlings: [email protected]