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Punt on OSAA plan.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Anyone who has ever played in or watched a blowout prep football game - or even worse, a death-march season filled with them - can appreciate the motivation behind the Oregon School Activities Association's proposed restructuring of high school sports in the state.

When schools routinely are at a serious competitive disadvantage, student athletes can become discouraged, humiliated or even physically injured. Parents can become angry and embittered, remembering for years how those dadblasted Woosnockey High Wildcats ran up the score in the fourth quarter. Coaches get fired and replacements are hard to find. Attendance drops and schools lose the revenues they need to pay for their athletics programs. The best athletes often transfer to schools with better win-loss records.

Most leagues around the state have a few schools that have little hope of attaining athletic parity in major sports such as football and basketball. Once in a long while, a breakout season in girls' track or boys' wrestling offers relief. But for the most part, it's losing season after losing season.

The OSAA periodically attempts to address such situations by reclassifying and redistricting its member schools. Usually the changes are minor, with a handful of schools shifting to different leagues and classifications across the state.

But the next realignment, scheduled for 2006-07, promises radical alterations. If approved by the OSAA's executive board this fall, six classes would replace the current four, mixing and matching teams and districts throughout Oregon.

Improving the competitive balance is a worthy goal, and the problems that the plan addresses are painfully real. But the current working proposal would create more problems than it would solve.

In fairness, the proposal would remedy some of the current enrollment imbalances - some schools now compete against schools with nearly three times as many students. Under the new plan, the ratio would not exceed more than 2-to-1 in any league. But the proposal fails to address other factors that contribute to competitive imbalances, including the ability of student athletes to transfer between schools within districts and differences in funding for athletics programs between districts.

While the new OSAA plan is supposed to help limit travel expenses and maintain existing league structures, it fails on both counts for some schools. For example, it would move the Midwestern League's two largest teams, Sheldon and South Eugene, to a new Class 6A league, along with the four largest schools from the Southern Oregon Conference.

That would not only break up deeply rooted, bleacher-packing local league rivalries (think Churchill and South Eugene in boys' basketball), it would also require Sheldon and South students to travel long distances to play southern Oregon schools, including two in Medford. That would increase transportation costs for all schools involved, but also cause a substantial loss in classroom time for athletes.

The plan would create similar problems, including a few new competitive imbalances, across the state. At least a half dozen schools that don't meet the new Class 6A minimum enrollment of 1,501 already have said they want to move up in classification. That, in turn, could lead to new competitive mismatches and force further restructuring.

The OSAA should consider alternatives. The original proposal for six classifications focused only on football, the sport in which competitive imbalances tend to have the highest profile and most serious consequences. If the OSAA insists on creating new classifications, it should limit them to only the most problematic sports and leave the rest of the state's high school sports structure intact.

The six-class proposal has scant support among high school athletic directors. At a conference in April, only 18 percent approved of the plan. Of the 82 Class 4A athletic directors who voted, only eight supported it.

Given such a lack of support and the negative consequences that would result from the new plan, the OSAA should devise a more narrowly focused plan, one that refines and improves on the current system rather than radically restructures it.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Proposal seeks to improve competitive balance
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 5, 2005
Words:657
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