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OSAA fumbles the ball.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Give the Oregon School Activities Association credit for trying to do the right thing by approving a new six-classification system. The new system is intended to improve competitive balance in high school sports by reducing the enrollment differences among schools in their leagues.

Give the OSAA that credit, because that's all it deserves for this new arrangement - which will have untenable consequences for Eugene-Springfield's Midwestern League.

The new system, approved Monday by the OSAA executive board, wrenches away the league's two biggest high schools, South Eugene and Sheldon, and plops them into a new "6A" league with Southern Oregon schools as far away as Grants Pass and Medford.

If the OSAA were playing a football game, this move would be a prime candidate for instant replay review. Viewed in dispassionate slow motion, surely the 10-member OSAA board would see what's painfully obvious to Eugene-Springfield residents: This proposal fails to accomplish at least two of the three goals that the OSAA established at the outset.

Those goals, in case the board has forgotten, were to improve competitive balance within leagues, minimize travel and expenses for schools and maintain traditional league rivalries. From a Midwestern League perspective, the OSAA may have accomplished the first, although new competitive imbalances undoubtedly will arise as a result of this reor- ganization.

But the new system falls glaringly short of meeting the two other goals. It will break up treasured rivalries and dramatically increase travel and expenses for South Eu- gene and Sheldon, as well as for Southern Oregon schools that must now journey to Eugene for league competition.

OSAA officials say they empathize with Midwestern League school officials and parents who protested the plan and its attendant six-hour bus journeys. But they insist some pain was necessary in order to improve the situation statewide.

"We live in a diverse state geographically, and putting together the silver bullet that would solve all our problems and make everyone happy is a daunting task," said Don Grotting, chairman of the OSAA Classification and Districting Committee. "We tried to uncover every rock in search of that silver bullet, but it just wasn't there."

All that rock lifting and silver-bullet searching is scant solace to Midwestern League schools that will lose deep-rooted rivalries that have packed the bleachers for decades. Nor is the OSAA's empathy much comfort to student athletes, coaches, families and fans who will spend hours on Interstate 5 instead of the classroom at a time when fuel prices are a serious burden.

Sheldon and South Eugene estimate their combined travel budget will total more than $100,000. OSAA officials insist that figure's high, but they're missing the big picture: Whatever the amount, this change will exact an unacceptably high and unnecessary toll in time and money. Add in travel safety concerns and it's easy to understand why school officials and parents are upset.

It's also inaccurate to suggest that the OSAA didn't have better alternatives. For example, it rejected a five-classification system that might have left the bulk of the current Midwestern League intact. The OSAA executive board also rejected a last-minute proposal that would have preserved the current Midwestern League, with the exception of Marshfield and Lebanon, by allowing North Eugene, Churchill, Willamette, Springfield and Thurston to "play up" in the new 6A classification. Other alternatives included an initial proposal for six classifications focused only on football, the sport that produces the most serious competitive imbalances.

By focusing its efforts exclusively on changing classifications and leagues, the OSAA also failed to address other factors that are part of the competitive balance equation. Those include differences in funding for athletic programs between districts and the ability of student-athletes to transfer between schools within districts.

In fairness, many schools across the state are pleased with the change, and predict the plan will make them more competitive and reduce expenses. But for the Midwestern League, the plan to send South Eugene and Sheldon student-athletes to Medford is a badly botched play - the equivalent of a 292,000-yard penalty.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Disruptive changes fail to meet key goals
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 27, 2005
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