Salem — Its been four years since the previous realignment that brought us the 6A Mountain Valley Conference with five of the six Salem-Keizer schools and three Bend-La Pine schools. Four years ago, the Salem-Keizer School District exhausted all of their options with the OSAA, eventually losing the battle and declining to take it to the courts. With the next round of realignment on the agenda, Salem-Keizer is just as opposed now as they were then, and this time it has the potential to have major consequences to the entire Oregon HS landscape with the two latest OSAA drafts released on Friday.
The first proposal is a six class proposal that makes the entire state look as normal as it is now, with the exception of some schools moving up or down between classes. Its the second proposal that shows a potential look into what the state might look like come 2022-23 if the OSAA does break up the Mountain Valley Conference. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are only five classifications, not six, which would reshuffle just about every conference and school in the state. Further, you’ll notice the large gaps in enrollment differences for schools in the lower classes, along with the break up of rivals and an overall uproot of the landscape as we know it. What’s even crazier is that they approved several proposals that involved them being in a conference with Bend, but then fought with a legal arsenal when it was time for it to actually take place.
Let’s begin with Salem-Keizer and Bend, where do they go? For Salem, they get exactly what they want, which is a conference with all Salem-Keizer schools, Silverton, and the Albany schools, no long travels and all local competition. For Bend, everything becomes even more complex than it already is, not to mention expensive and straight up insane. They would become part of a 12 team conference with their four teams, South Eugene, Willamette, Sheldon, Roseburg, Thurston, Grants Pass, and the two Medford schools. What was a three to four hour drive to Salem and vice versa then becomes a minimum 2-3 hour drive to Eugene, and even longer to Grants Pass, Medford, and Roseburg…just on a perfect weather day. Once winter hits, they’ll be looking at a potential overnight stay or up to an eight hour drive. The teams had consolidated their travel already by usually travelling all at once to Salem, but now could find themselves split between Medford, Eugene, Grants Pass, or some combination of their conference and completely away from one another.
Further, this intertwines not just two school districts, but instead seven different school districts. Its worth noting that every team in that conference currently travels at least two hours to face a conference opponent, but how they currently compensate for the variables involved with that are nothing compared to the 12 team circus that they might be facing. In a nutshell, it causes for more money spent, lost class time, and more travel than what already exists in the current alignment. When looking at the lens of student-athlete interest, this is a more problematic scenario than the one currently faced by Salem-Keizer. The concerns expressed are legitimate by Salem-Keizer, but in a world where there is no perfect scenario, someone has to compromise in order to keep the peace, and their fierce opposition threatens to derail the entire sports landscape along with every school in the state.
You get scenarios where the Three Rivers League is split completely between four conferences, Valley Catholic is stuck in a conference with seven coast schools and them being the lone Metro team, La Pine is in a nine team conference that has them as the only Central Oregon squad, 3A gets a 14 team Southern Oregon Conference ranging from Sutherlin to Brookings-Harbor to Lakeview, not to mention the mammoth 17 team 1A conference in Eastern Oregon. Remember, all of this would be courtesy of the Salem-Keizer School District. Salem-Keizer says that the current situation is too costly, has too many negative effects on classroom time, and is dangerous in the winter with the Cascades, but this would impact more than just them, and it’d be a situation that would be negative to thousands of student-athletes across the state. This is currently only a draft and it could dramatically change before February, but its a preview of what we could expect on a statewide level. Salem-Keizer called this a failure of Valley student-athletes, but who is accounting for the student-athletes in the Metro, Eastern Oregon, Central Oregon, and Southern Oregon? Definitely not them and someone needs to step up for them. We all want what’s best for our student-athletes, and this is definitely not what is best for the state at large.