The landscape of Salem-Keizer high school football, and football in the state of Oregon as a whole, will look a lot different for the 2022 season.
A new conference brings together five of the six SKPS schools — McNary, a North Salem team moving up from 5A, South Salem, Sprague and West Salem — along with five southern Oregon schools — Grants Pass, North Medford, Roseburg, Sheldon and South Medford — in the 6A Special District 1 super conference.
The change means a big shift to travel. No more going through the mountains, instead just a three to four-hour drive south.
“I didn’t like going over the pass, there was always just that what if?” West Salem head coach Shawn Stanley said. “I don’t mind the flat bus ride down I-5. We’re used to that trip. People that complain about travel at the 6A level haven’t been part of the OSAA or coaches association and listened to what the smaller schools deal with.”
New McNary head coach Connor Astley echoed Stanley’s thoughts on the ease of the drive.
“You don’t have to worry about the twists and turns and guys getting sick on the ride over,” Astley said. “I’m excited for the new conference.”
But not everyone is excited about the changes.
South Salem head coach Scott Dufault said they got lucky this year, the farthest south they go is one trip to Roseburg.
“We’re lucky that way, but the travel sucks,” Dufault said. “Where it sucks the most is our Thursday night kids who play, get home late then have to get up and come to school the next day.”
While McKay remains in 5A, they move to a strong Mid-Willamette Valley Conference that has the defending state champion Silverton and six of the nine teams made the playoffs.
Conference alignment isn’t the only change.
This year, the OSAA postseason will look different as well. Instead of a single 32-team tournament to determine a state champion, there will be two different tournaments. The top 16 schools will play for a chance at the state championship, while the next 16 will play for the Columbia Cup.
This change would have had a big impact last season as McNary finished as No. 16, but would have been knocked down to Columbia Cup competition from an automatic qualifier ranked lower.
The changes bring a lot of questions for the 2022 season, but there’s one thing that’s for sure — football is back again.