Hood River Valley High School administration breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday after learning of the Oregon School Activities Association Classification and Districting Committee’s final recommendation to keep the Columbia River Conference intact for the 2014-18 cycle. The committee last month proposed a merging of the Columbia River Conference with Central Oregon’s Intermountain Conference, but after receiving significant and impassioned feedback from CRC schools, decided to revert back to the status quo for the next four-year time block, leaving HRVHS in a four-team conference with Pendleton, Hermiston and The Dalles-Wahtonka.
The committee’s final recommendation will go to the OSAA Executive Board and Delegate Assembly, which will make a final decision on the matter at an Oct. 28 meeting.
In a show of camaraderie between rival schools, administrators from HRVHS, The Dalles and Hermiston joined forces by presenting OSAA with combined statements and a letter signed by superintendents of all three schools lobbying against a move to the IMC. Pendleton representatives drafted its own letter taking a more neutral stance, saying it has been happy with the CRC but is open to a change.
“We decided to band together on this,” said Keith Bassham, HRVHS athletic director. “We get along pretty well in the Columbia River Conference and being able to stick together and not get grouped into the IMC is the best thing for us. Being in the IMC would have literally cost us thousands and thousands of dollars.”
In addition to significantly higher travel costs, CRC schools argued a move to the IMC would, among other things, lead to more missed class time for students, less athlete and parent participation and an increase in risky travel, particularly in winter months. In its rationale for proposing the merger, the committee saw a more balanced 5A arrangement with four leagues consisting of similar numbers of teams in each, which would simplify scheduling and state championship processes.
“The initial proposal gave us (athletic directors) an opportunity to talk to each other; to discuss what we really wanted and what is best for our schools and our athletes,” Bassham said. “The committee made the right decision. We still want to schedule games with IMC schools, but this gives us a choice. If we were grouped together in the same conference, we would have no choice in traveling down there all the time.”
“We wanted to put the idea out there and see how schools felt about it,” said Peter Weber, OSAA assistant executive director. “I think this speaks to the process we have. We knew when we put the idea out there that it might not get the support it needed, but we wanted to give schools the opportunity. The feedback we got was clear, so the committee changed its recommendation to account for that.”
Weber said from what he heard from IMC schools, they were open to the idea of a combined conference if it had north and south delineations (CRC North and CRC South) but probably wouldn’t be interested in returning to the combined IMC/CRC that was in effect prior to the current four-year cycle.
If approved, the new 5A IMC would include its current schools — Bend, Mountain View, Redmond and Summit — and the addition of the Ridgeview Ravens of Redmond, currently in the two-team 4A Special District 1 conference with Crook County. The other three 5A districts would be the Midwestern League, with seven schools, the Mid-Willamette Conference, with eight schools and the Northwest Oregon Conference, with nine schools.
Because of uneven numbers of teams in each league, the current 5A State Championship setup is based on a ranking system. For sports in which the system applies, teams ranked in the top eight at the end of their regular season advance automatically to the second round of the playoffs; teams ranked 9-16 host in the first round and teams ranked 17-24 have a play-in game to try to make the first round.
A separate OSAA State Championship Committee will be meeting over the next several months do determine what changes to that system to recommend for the next four-year cycle. According to Weber, one option the committee is considering is doing away with the ranking system and returning to one in which a certain number of the top teams in each league qualify for the championship tournament.
The OSAA board will make a decision on the Championship Committee’s recommendations in February.