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FOOTBALL: OSAA committee recommendations could affect local schools

Eric Singer

East Oregonian

Published on January 11, 2018 8:54PM

Echo Cougars RB Zack Gehrke does some quick stepping to evade Aaron Smyth (27), of Ione, during a 2016 game in Echo. The Cougars could be a part of a pilot program in 2018 to play 6-man football, which is among a few recommendations an OSAA ad-hoc football committee has compiled. (EO File Photo)

Echo Cougars RB Zack Gehrke does some quick stepping to evade Aaron Smyth (27), of Ione, during a 2016 game in Echo. The Cougars could be a part of a pilot program in 2018 to play 6-man football, which is among a few recommendations an OSAA ad-hoc football committee has compiled. (EO File Photo)

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The football landscape within the OSAA will likely look much more different than expected come this fall.

The OSAA’s ad-hoc football committee has spent the past two-plus months taking a closer look at the issues that face the sport in the state, such as declining participation and player safety. Over the course of its five meetings, the committee has developed a set of recommendations that will likely be presented to the Executive Board in February that would be implemented for the 2018 season.

The most notable recommendation is giving schools that meet specific criteria the option to play down a classification to help level the playing field. The specific criterion outlined by the committee is for schools with a four-year Colley win percentage of 22 percent or lower or has played 12 and fewer in-classification games during the last four years, or any school with a two-year Colley win percentage of 22 percent or lower.

According to the committee’s early research, 48 schools across the state meet that criteria, which include local schools McLoughlin, Riverside and Pilot Rock.

Riverside, which has compiled a 18-78 record at the Class 3A level since 2007, has made it clear they are very interested in exercising their option to drop from Class 3A to Class 2A. The Pirates have had declining numbers in recent years and formed a co-op with Ione in 2017. According to the most recent recommendation from the Jan. 9 meeting, Riverside would drop into a district with Heppner, Stanfield, Weston-McEwen, Culver and Grant Union.

“My administration and I are in support of playing in the 2A (classification),” Riverside coach David Boor said in an email. “For us, it is about giving our students a safe and competitive opportunity. This decision is about doing what is best for our student-athletes and every school needs to put their kids in the best position for them to have a great experience academically and athletically.

“For us at this time, 2A football would be the best fit for our student-athletes.”

McLoughlin, however, has expressed their interest to remain in Class 4A in a district with La Grande, Baker and Ontario over a drop to 3A with the likes of Vale, Nyssa, Umatilla and Irrigon. The Pioneers, who have a 22-67 overall record and have won just two league games since 2007, have shown signs of improvement in the past two seasons under coach Gary Robertson, and Robertson feels they’re better suited at the 4A level.

“Looking at the alignments, the thing I didn’t like is all the sudden our kids have a different set of opponents and rivals than in any other sport,” Robertson said. “I want all of our guys to have the chance to play the same rivals that they do in other sports.

“And it is incumbent upon me as a coach to get all of my guys to play up at that level,” Robertson added. “We had a rough stretch, but I feel like we’ve made some significant strides in that arena and there’s still more left.”

Pilot Rock, which played a mostly-1A schedule as a 2A independent last season, will move to the 1A classification in a large district with schools such as Arlington/Condon, Dufur, Adrian, Enterprise, Powder Valley, Union, Wallowa, and Imbler.

The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Wednesday that six Class 6A schools — Benson, Cleveland, Wilson, McKay, South Eugene, Forest Grove — would exercise the option to move down to 5A. And in 5A, schools such as Hood River Valley, Parkrose, Springfield, North Eugene, Ridgeview and The Dalles all meet the criteria, but would decline the option. Crook County, which was scheduled to move up from Class 4A to 5A in a league with Pendleton in the OSAA’s 2018-2022 alignment, would use its option to stay in 4A.

Two more notable recommendations are intended for the smaller schools. The first is the creation of enrollment zone for schools with adjusted enrollments of 89 to 120 that will give the schools the option to play 11-man or 8-man football to best fit their capabilities. The second one is a pilot program for 6-man football on a two-year trial. Any school with an adjusted enrollment of 89 or fewer would be eligible for the program, and as of now schools including Echo, Joseph, Monument, Dayville, South Wasco and Prarie City among others have expressed interest.

Six-man football is played on a smaller field — 80 yards long, 40 yards wide — and is widely used by smaller schools across the state of Texas, as well as other western states such as Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska. Echo has had some success over the past two seasons at the 8-man level, but with only eight returning players slated to return from the 2017 team they may not have the necessary bodies to compete. Echo coach Rick Thew could not be reached for comment.

The committee’s next meeting Jan. 31 at 9 a.m. at OSAA office in Wilsonville and it is open to the public.

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Contact Eric at esinger@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.



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