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State budget cuts, scheduling issues may prompt realignment

Boulder City and Clark competing for a spot in the state tournament?

Moapa Valley going head to head with Las Vegas in a football league game?

It might happen.

The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association soon might look to realign or possibly merge classes as state budget cuts and scheduling issues become major obstacles for the state’s schools, but the association isn’t yet ready to act.

The association’s Board of Control meets Thursday and Friday in Reno. Talk of realignment likely won’t come up as the association wants to wait to see what happens with the state budget and how the state’s superintendents react.

The headache is painful and needs an urgent remedy in the Class 3A Southern League, which will lose Faith Lutheran next season when the Crusaders jump to Class 4A. The league will be left with three members — Boulder City, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley.

“The NIAA knew this was where we were headed,” Moapa Valley athletic director Matt Messer said.

Those three schools are having a difficult time trying to find nonleague games for football and soon will have the same issues for basketball and other sports. But that’s not all.

NIAA regulations state, “The Executive Director shall not schedule or conduct a regional tournament for a sanctioned sport for a Class 3A or 4A league unless at least four teams from the league participate … during the season.”

The Southern League won’t have four teams next year.

“We won’t have enough teams to even have a league,” Virgin Valley athletic director Keven Hess said. “Everybody is concerned about it.”

So concerned, in fact, that ideas which could bring about drastic changes in the state’s classes are being talked about.

“The 3A is basically a dead league,” Hess said.

It wasn’t that way last season when Pahrump Valley also competed in Class 3A, but Pahrump’s enrollment falls within the Class 4A qualifications. The state’s 105 NIAA-member schools are divided into one of four classes based on their enrollment. The smallest schools are in Class 1A, and the largest — including 32 in Southern Nevada — are in Class 4A.

“It’s not a good situation,” Faith Lutheran athletic director Bret Walter said. “We love the 3A, and it’s going to be a different ballgame for us.”

BEGINNING OF THE END?

Pahrump wanted to stay in Class 3A, but its enrollment is nearly twice that of the three remaining members, all of which have enrollments near 700 students.

“We were all pretty pessimistic when we first heard we were being moved,” Pahrump athletic director Dan Lindgren said. “Putting us in the Southwest League did help. And we did understand that we were over 1,200 (students).”

That started the ball rolling.

Faith Lutheran likely was to move to 4A in 2012 when private-school enrollments are scheduled to use a multiplier to determine in what class the school should be placed.

Instead of waiting and struggling to find nonleague games for several years, Faith Lutheran petitioned to make an early move.

“The decision got even easier for us,” Walter said.

But the ramifications of that move hurt Boulder City, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley.

“We don’t like it,” Boulder City athletic director Regina Quintero said. “We voted for Pahrump Valley to stay (in 3A).”

FILLING A SCHEDULE

Other than the lack of a league tournament, the biggest obstacle the remaining members face is trying to fill a schedule.

Football teams play nine or 10 regular-season games in a year. Basketball teams usually play 20-25 games.

Boulder City, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley play each other once for a grand total of two league games. They would play each other twice in most other sports.

“It makes scheduling really tough,” Messer said. “It’s almost impossible.”

Only 10 Class 3A teams will be left in the state next year, and seven of those are several hours away from Clark County. Trying to find a competitive game within reasonable driving distance is tricky.

“I’ve been working on the football schedule for a month trying to find games,” Quintero said. “The district will only pay for so much, and that leaves the programs to have to fundraise.”

The cost of a bus, and in cases of long trips, nights in a motel, is expensive. To say money is tight is an understatement.

“We usually pick up games against Utah teams, but with their realignment, it’s tough,” Hess said. “The travel expense is an issue. We pay for any bus that goes over 250 miles. Our travel expenses will be phenomenal.”

Class 4A doesn’t have that problem. In Southern Nevada, the 4A schools are divided into four leagues. They can play each other for nonleague games and never have to travel more than an hour.

In administrators’ offices, teachers’ lounges and in some cases even in the bleachers at games, there is talk of what to do to help solve the problem the 3A faces.

Two of the more popular ideas are either changing the enrollment guidelines for 3A and 4A or merging the classes and creating competitive leagues.

MOVING ON DOWN?

The NIAA’s rules specify that schools with enrollments of at least 1,200 be classified in 4A. Smaller schools, like Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran, can petition to move up, but teams don’t move down.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to see a change in the (enrollment) numbers,” Quintero said. “The ideal thing is to change those numbers so Pahrump Valley could come back to 3A and have Faith Lutheran stay in 3A.”

Quintero isn’t alone.

“If we could go back to a five-team league, that’s probably a better solution,” Messer said.

It would help, but it still leaves holes in schedules for nonleague games.

Few Class 4A schools would consider going to 3A.

“We surveyed some 4A schools a couple of years ago, and none of them had an appetite for moving to 3A,” said Clark County School District athletic director Ray Mathis, who also serves as the NIAA Board of Control president. “It’s a status situation. I don’t think any of the principals want to be a 3A school.”

Just like in college athletics, some people attach more meaning to larger schools.

“I never understood that mentality,” Clark athletic director Chris Lounsbery said. “One more ‘A’ behind your state title means more to some people, I guess.”

Said Lindgren: “Most of the 3As are playing some 4A teams anyways. I don’t know why the 4A schools would think that way.”

Tech, which other than Pahrump and first-year school Desert Oasis, is the smallest Class 4A school in Southern Nevada with an enrollment of near 1,800, would like to move to Class 3A but can’t get approved for the move.

“We fought hard to make that jump,” Tech athletic administrator Nick Brockovich said. “If we had our choice, we’d go to 3A. It’s all based on numbers.”

Said Larry Goins, the athletic director at Desert Oasis and a former athletic director at Pahrump: “The 4A and the board has to have more of an open mind.”

COMPETITIVE BALANCE?

Another idea, and maybe the more likely to eventually be incorporated, is merging the two classes into one and creating leagues based on enrollment and/or competitive balance.

“What we’ve floated is the idea of a 4A-A and a 4A-B league,” Hess said. “None of the 4A schools wants to be 3A. If you make a 4A-A and a 4A-B, you can still have two state champions.”

With another Class 4A school scheduled to open in Las Vegas next year, Southern Nevada would have 34 Class 4A teams. Merging the classes would make 37 4A teams in the south.

It sounds like a simple solution, but it would be asking the 3A schools to compete on a regular basis with schools four or even five times their size.

“The problem with that is to move them up, they’d be playing bigger schools,” Mathis said. “That was the problem in the first place. That’s why it was aligned this way.

“Had we been able to make exceptions and put teams into the 3A, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Pahrump has proven to be a good early litmus test for a possible merger.

The Trojans weren’t at all competitive in football, but that wasn’t a surprise given that they struggled in 3A.

Pahrump’s volleyball team qualified for the postseason and had a regular-season win over eventual Sunset Region champion Durango. The girls basketball team already has beaten Shadow Ridge, Cimarron-Memorial and Legacy.

“As far as a lot of the girls sports go, I see a lot of the 4A teams really being at the same level as the 3As,” Lindgren said.

Moapa Valley’s football team won the Class 3A state title and likely could have been competitive in 4A.

“Those schools wouldn’t have consistent success to the level they have now,” Goins said. “But I believe Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley football would have been in the top third in 4A.”

Trying to align teams based on competitive balance creates another problem.

Schools that have good teams in one sport might struggle in another.

Clark’s boys soccer team was one of the state’s best in Class 4A this year. The football team, while it has shown great improvement, has struggled for years.

“You can’t just look at raw numbers,” Lounsbery said. “Along with the enrollment factor is what kind of kids you have. I don’t know where you draw the line.”

Some teams are beaten before the season starts, feeling they have no chance to compete in their current league. The Northwest League was stacked in football this year.

In girls basketball, asking Desert Oasis to be competitive against defending state champion Bishop Gorman is like telling David to play Goliath without a slingshot.

Realigning teams won’t eliminate all of those matchups, but it could minimize them.

“I like the idea of going to super leagues, if it’s practical,” Brockovich said.

And there’s the question of what to do with teams that have drastic record swings from year to year.

For example In 2007, Mojave’s football team went 8-2 and made the playoffs. Legacy struggled in the same league.

This year, Legacy went to the postseason, and Mojave went winless.

“How do you define competitive balance?” Mathis asked. “Do you go by last year’s record? We don’t want to do what California does where you’re in a different league from year to year.”

NO IDEAL ANSWER

“I don’t think anybody has an ideal solution,” Quintero said. “The bottom line is we’re too big for 2A and too small for 4A.”

So far, no solution is perfect. If one was, the NIAA would be acting on it.

“Unless we go to 102 divisions, someone will always be mad,” Goins said.

But for now, a clock is ticking against the 3A Southern League.

“I want to make the 3A happy,” Mathis said. “I want them to tell us what they think the best solution is. They’re the ones who will have to live with it.”

What would make the 3A happy for now is the NIAA to show it’s at least planning to do something to help. Apparently that won’t come at this board meeting.

“We need to know right away,” Messer said.

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