Todd Ghormley will be the football coach at Wyoming Indian this fall, the Casper Star-Tribune’s Jack Nowlin reported on Twitter.

Ghormley takes over for Taylor Her Many Horses, who was the head coach the past two seasons. The Chiefs went 2-14 under Her Many Horses, finishing 0-8 in 11-man in 2012 and 2-6 in six-man last year. The Chiefs are back in Class 1A 11-man this fall.

Ghormley is also Wyoming Indian’s wrestling coach and was previously an assistant football coach with the Chiefs, too. He’s a graduate of South Dakota Mines and was an assistant football coach for the school in 2006.

Practice for Class 1A 11-man football teams started Monday.

To see the list of all coaching changes statewide, click here.

–patrick

Normally, when a team wins 27 consecutive games and three state championships, it gains a New York Yankees-type following: Just as many people want to see that team fail as succeed.

But not Powell. Not this year. Not with this offseason.

Truth is always stranger, more more heart-rending and more amazing than fiction. Powell’s 2014 season will likely be memorable for a variety of reasons, but after what the Panthers have faced this offseason, it’s safe to say no one is rooting to see the Panthers fail this autumn. Except maybe the 11 other schools in Class 3A, who all want their chance to dethrone the Panthers.

Four questions to answer

Can Powell break the state record for consecutive victories? Definitely — but it’s no given. Powell has won 27 consecutive games entering this season. The state record for consecutive victories is 34 (Laramie, 1959-63) and the record for consecutive unbeaten games is 36 (Worland, 1953-56). Powell does face some challenges to that streak, though — namely Miles City, Mont., in a Zero Week game, Douglas in Week 1 and an always-tough rivalry game against Cody in Week 8.

Who has the best chance to keep Powell from four-peating? Douglas or Cody. The Bearcats — losers to Powell in the 2011 and 2013 Class 3A title games — return only two starters on offense but have one of the classification’s stoutest defenses. Cody returns a stable of talented and athletic players. And they both have the chance to get film on the Panthers prior to the playoffs.

Is 3A still top-heavy? Definitely. The favorites are clear; the contenders are clear; the teams that still need development are clear. And the five teams anticipated to be on the top of their conferences — Douglas and Riverton in the East and Powell, Cody and Star Valley in the West — all play each other in the nonconference season. Expect a lot of playoff rematches come the semifinals and state championship.

OK, so you just turned 3A into a five-team race. Which squad is most likely to make you look like a fool? Torrington. The Trailblazers have slowly been gaining respect from 3A coaches statewide and have what may be the most athletic group of players that fourth-year coach Mark Lenhardt has ever had. This might be Torrington’s year to shift from developing to developed.

Four players to watch

Riley Stringer, Powell. Already a two-time all-state selection — and the Casper Star-Tribune’s statewide defensive player of the year last year as a junior — Stringer is one of the best linemen in the state. He is Powell’s leading returning tackler and finished with 15.5 tackles for loss a year ago. Look for more of the same.

Bay Parks, Douglas. Parks is Douglas’ leading returning tackler and led the Bearcats with six sacks a year ago. His influence will be a big part of a young Bearcat squad that has to replace several starters.

Carter Myers, CodyMyers is a beast on both sides of the ball. He led Cody in rushing yards (1,023) and scoring (103 points) on offense and also led the Broncs in defensive points. If Cody is going to challenge Powell out west, it will be in big part because of Myers.

Theo Dawson, Jackson. Dawson burst on the statewide scene as a sophomore by leading the Broncs, the best rushing team in Class 3A year ago, in rushing yards (924) despite missing a big chunk of the season to injury. As a junior, he could help the Broncs mess up the dreams of some unsuspecting West Conference foes if they’re not ready for him.

Four key games

Powell at Douglas, Sept. 5. The rematch of the 2011 and 2013 Class 3A championship game is important for both squads; the winner of this Week 1 matchup will gain confidence — and a target on its back. Never mind Powell’s whole winning streak thing…

Cody at Star Valley, Sept. 26. The first West Conference game of the season for both teams will help quickly clarify which team has the best chance to challenge Powell’s supremacy.

Douglas at Riverton, Oct. 17. A senior-laden Wolverines squad could be Douglas’ biggest challenge in the East Conference. And Riverton draws the game at home.

Cody at Powell, Oct. 24. If Powell reaches this point in the season without a loss, this game will be for the state’s unbeaten streak record. But it could also be critical for playoff seeding and maybe a conference championship, too.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Douglas, Riverton, Torrington, Lander, Buffalo, Rawlins. West Conference: Powell, Cody, Star Valley, Jackson, Worland, Green River.

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

Powell 20, Cody 18. There’s enough parity at the top of 3A that a Powell four-peat is not a given. Don’t be surprised if this year’s state champ has a couple losses during the regular season.

Is Powell destined for another undefeated season? Can Cody or Douglas stop them? What other schools have the goods to hang with the best in the class? Let’s start the conversation with your comments.

–patrick

I posted a quick update to Burns’ 1970 season. Turns out that Burns’ home games that year were played in Pine Bluffs for some reason. Those games — against Goshen Hole, Glenrock, Hanna and Saratoga — have been updated to correct the location.

–patrick

Throughout its history, the Cokeville Panther football program has been among Wyoming’s best. Longtime coach Todd Dayton, though, took Cokeville’s success to unparalleled heights.

Cokeville had an all-time record of 126-96-10 before Dayton arrived as head coach in 1980. The Panthers’ pre-Dayton winning percentage of .565 would have it just outside the top 10 for active Wyoming programs.

Then Dayton arrived and turned the program into a juggernaut. Dayton’s career record at Cokeville is 282-52 — a .844 winning percentage — and Cokeville’s record of 408-148-10 gives it a winning percentage 0f .730, which is the best among active Wyoming programs by a wide margin.

Consider this: Natrona, which is second to Cokeville in active programs with a .664 winning percentage, would have to win 211 consecutive games to reach Cokeville’s .730 winning percentage.

Consistency is what has given Cokeville its success. In fact, the Panthers are trying to notch their 27th consecutive winning season and their 29th consecutive non-losing season in 2014. Both streaks are the longest in state history.

Through 2013 season, here are Wyoming’s longest streaks of winning, non-losing, non-winning and losing seasons. The asterisk (*) denotes a current streak:

Top 10 winning (better than .500)
1. Cokeville, 26, 1988-2013*
2. Southeast, 16, 1997-2012
3. Glenrock, 15, 1963-77
4t. Byron, 14, 1963-76
4t. Natrona, 14, 1932-45
6t. Douglas, 13, 1948-60
6t. Lusk, 13, 1991-2003
6t. Natrona, 13, 1993-2005
9t. Laramie, 12, 1954-65
9t. Star Valley, 12, 1961-72
9t. Torrington, 12, 1947-58

Top 10 non-losing (.500 or better)
1. Cokeville, 28, 1986-2013*
2. Glenrock, 24, 1956-79
3. Byron, 23, 1954-76
4. Torrington, 22, 1937-58
5. Natrona, 19, 1927-45
6t. Southeast, 17, 1997-2013*
6t. Torrington, 17, 1966-82
8t. Mountain View, 16, 1991-2006
8t. Natrona, 16, 1993-2008
10. Pine Bluffs, 15, 1959-73

Top 10 losing (worse than .500)
1. Newcastle, 22, 1984-2005
2. Sundance, 14, 1941-54
3t. Laramie, 13, 2001-13*
3t. Rawlins, 13, 2001-13*
3t. Wyoming Indian, 13, 1983-95
6t. Burns, 12, 1941-73 (gaps, 1945 and 1947-66)
6t. St. Mary’s, 12, 1960-71
6t. Rawlins, 12, 1987-98
9t. Big Horn, 11, 1959-69
9t. Manville, 11, 1930-41 (gap 1933)
9t. Worland Institute, 11, 1951-61

Top 10 non-winning (.500 or worse)
1. Wyoming Indian, 24, 1983-2006
2. Newcastle, 22, 1984-2005
3. Torrington, 18, 1996-2013*
4. Thermopolis, 17, 1973-89
5. Kelly Walsh, 15, 1987-2001
6t. Basin, 14, 1922-35
6t. Cheyenne East, 14, 1986-99
6t. Greybull, 14, 1963-76
6t. Sundance, 14, 1941-54
10t. Farson, 13, 1940-53 (gap 1952)
10t. Laramie, 13, 2001-13*
10t. Meeteetse, 13, 1941-54 (gap 1943)
10t. Rawlins, 13, 2001-13*

These streaks have been added to the streaks page.

–patrick

Class 2A, due in part to its large number of schools and its consistent turnover of seniors, always seems to have parity. This is especially true at the top of the classification — Class 2A’s playoffs have been among the most exciting the past few years. Will 2014 bring more of the same? Probably….

Four questions to answer

Can Big Horn repeat as state champion? Can they? Yes. Will they? That’s not as clear. The Rams return four of their seven all-state selections from a year ago but have to replace quarterback Connor McCafferty, who was the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 offensive player of the year last year. He won’t be easily replaced, but the Rams have talent in spades everywhere else.

So is Big Horn the favorite in the 2A this year? Well… it depends on who you ask. Big Horn is solid, but so is Mountain View, and Lovell, and Lyman, and Newcastle, and Thermopolis, and…. Class 2A’s parity has been its calling card for several years, but more teams than ever are in the conversation as championship contenders.

Who’s everyone forgetting about? Lovell. It sounds silly to say that a team that started 9-0 and returns five of its nine all-conference selections is overlooked, but the Bulldogs’ success has been overshadowed by the fact that they didn’t make it to Laramie last year. They shouldn’t be: Lovell’s deep and experienced, and it only lost six seniors from last year’s team. Watch out.

Will Thermopolis’ move to the East Conference change anything? Not really. The Bobcats are back in the East after two years in the West Conference. The change isn’t that big to Thermopolis – the only team that’s new to the Bobcats is Wheatland. The two schools haven’t played each other since 1986 but will open East Conference play by facing each other.

Four (OK, five) players to watch

Christian Mayer, Big Horn. When you score five touchdowns in a state championship game, you draw attention. That’s the case for Mayer, who might be Class 2A’s most dangerous wide receiver and return specialist.

Austin Houskeeper and Cade Covington, Mountain View. If the Buffalos return to the state championship game, it will be on the backs of these two-time all-state picks. Covington was Mountain View’s leading rusher last year and Houskeeper had more than 2,100 yards of all-purpose offense — and they both finished in Mountain View’s top three in defensive points.

Tyler Cornwell, ThermopolisClass 2A had six running backs break 1,000 yards a year ago, but Cornwell is the only one who’s back. Just a junior, Cornwell ran for 1,012 yards a year ago and will run behind an experienced offensive line to boot.

Calder Forcella, Greybull. It’s no surprise the dynamic quarterback of the Buffaloes led his team by throwing for 1,717 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. But he also led his team in rushing yards (624) and rushing touchdowns (nine). With a new coach, his numbers might not be as high, but his responsibilities will be just as critical.

Four key games

Big Horn at Lovell, Sept. 5. These two teams have had pretty epic semifinal games the past two years. Now we don’t have to wait until the playoffs to see them face each other.

Lovell at Mountain View, Sept. 26. This game pits the team that won the West Conference title last year against the team that represented the West in the state championship game. And both teams have the goods to be contenders again this year. This one is big.

Mountain View at Lyman, Oct. 24. Mountain View and Lovell are the clear contenders in the West, but don’t forget about Lyman. The Eagles could be one of the classification’s top teams, and the Bridger Valley Bowl on the regular season’s final day could be for a conference title.

Newcastle at Thermopolis, Oct. 24. Both teams have the potential to challenge Big Horn for supremacy in the East Conference. If things go right for both teams, this regular-season finale should be for way more than just bragging rights.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Big Horn, Newcastle, Thermopolis, Wheatland, Burns, Glenrock, Wright. West Conference: Mountain View, Lovell, Lyman, Greybull, Pinedale, Big Piney, Kemmerer.

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

Big Horn 34, Mountain View 28. If the Rams can find someone as consistent as Connor McCafferty under center, they have the weapons to repeat.

What do you think? Which teams have the best chance of keeping Big Horn from repeating? What teams will be better than we think? Post a comment to kickstart the 2A conversation.

Next Tuesday: Class 3A.

–patrick

With two clear favorites — one in each conference — Class 1A 11-man seems to have all the drama of a second-grade school play. But we’ve often seen that the more predictable small-school football appears, the less predictable it actually is. Will that be the case in 2014?

Four questions to answer

Is this the year Lusk finally breaks through to win a state championship? For the Tigers’ sake, let’s hope so. No team in the state has won as many games as Lusk has the past four years (36) without winning at least one state championship. The Tigers have done everything right — except win in Laramie, where they’re 0-3 the past four years.

Cokeville stands in their way again, huh? Yep. The Panthers have won three championships in four years. They return four all-state players and have 11 seniors — the biggest senior class coach Todd Dayton has had in his three-plus decades with the Panthers. They haven’t lost a conference game in five years. And all indications are that they’re on track to make it Laramie again this year.

Will anyone challenge Lusk or Cokeville? Probably not. Of the 16 returning all-state players in the classification, seven either play for the Tigers or Panthers. Several squads — Southeast, Upton-Sundance, Lingle, Riverside and Rocky Mountain among them — could pose threats, but Lusk and Cokeville start the year head and shoulders above the rest.

Which of the four new teams in the classification has the best chance to contend? Tongue River. Class 1A 11-man expanded from 11 to 15 teams this year, as Wyoming Indian and Saratoga came up after one year in six-man and Tongue River and Moorcroft dropped from Class 2A. Of those, Tongue River has the best chance to make the most immediate impact — the Eagles have improved incrementally since John Scott took over the program in 2012 but have yet to make the postseason.

Four players to watch

Jace Petersen, Cokeville. After missing his sophomore campaign due to injury, Petersen led Cokeville to a state title last year on his legs (746 rushing yards, 14 TDs) and his arm (790 passing yards, another 14 more TDs). A Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 first team pick last year, he’s also a key piece of Cokeville’s defense and will be one of the classification’s most dynamic players this year.

Derick VandeBossche, Lusk. Few players play as well both offensively and defensively as VandeBossche. Already a two-time all-state pick, he was Lusk’s leading tackler as a junior a year ago and was also a key piece of the offense, rushing for 500 yards and grabbing team highs in receptions (18) and receiving yards (199).

Jett Materi, Upton-SundanceThe Patriots’ best opportunity at a deep playoff run in the history of their three-year co-op just might be this season, thanks in big part to their dynamic running back. Materi, a two-time all-state choice, ran for more than 116 yards per game a year ago and scored 13 of the team’s 21 touchdowns.

Tucker McKim, Riverside. For the second consecutive season, McKim led Class 1A 11-man in receiving yards and catches. He’s put up better combined numbers the past two years (105 catches, 1,455 yards) than seven of the 11 TEAMS in the class the past two years. The Rebels could ride him to an upset or two and could be a darkhorse contender because of his playmaking ability.

Four key games

Riverside at Burlington, Sept. 12. Both the Rebels and Huskies are eager to prove they belong in the discussion for a home playoff game. The loser of this conference opener has a heck of a lot more difficult time to climb back into that discussion.

Cokeville at Rocky Mountain, Sept. 26. One of the Panthers’ most difficult challenges on their way to a sixth consecutive conference championship will be this road date with a Grizzlies.

Tongue River at Lingle, Oct. 17. One of the most intriguing East Conference games comes when the Eagles venture south to play the Doggers in the first meeting between the two programs — and it might be for a playoff spot.

Southeast at Lusk, Oct. 17. Tigers-Cyclones. Write it down. In ink. This is always, always, ALWAYS a big game. This game has influenced the conference championship race every season since 2009 when the schools were rejoined in Class 1A 11-man.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Lusk, Southeast, Upton-Sundance, Lingle, Tongue River, Pine Bluffs, Moorcroft. West Conference: Cokeville, Rocky Mountain, Riverside, Burlington, Shoshoni, Saratoga, Wind River, Wyoming Indian.

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

Lusk 21, Cokeville 16. No one can say the Tigers don’t deserve a title. This is the year the law of averages works in Lusk’s favor.

So is this finally Lusk’s year? Will Cokeville’s massive senior class get in the Tigers’ way again? Could Southeast, or Rocky Mountain, or someone else sneak in and nab the title unexpectedly? Let’s start the discussion with your thoughts….

–patrick

Chanler Buck has been named the interim head football coach at Powell, succeeding Jim Stringer.

Buck was a volunteer assistant with the Panthers the past three years and also coached Powell’s eighth-grade team. Prior to coming to Powell, Buck was an assistant coach with Carroll College in Helena, Montana. He teaches physical education at Powell Middle School.

The hiring was announced via email Thursday by Powell AD Tim Wormald.

Buck played football at Utah State before finishing his football career at Carroll. He is originally from Idaho; his father, Stan, is the head coach at Blackfoot High in eastern Idaho, and his uncle Mitch is the head coach at Madison High in Rexburg.

Stringer died July 18 of an apparent heart attack. He went 70-42 in 11 years as Powell’s head coach and won four state titles.

Powell enters the season as the three-time defending Class 3A champions. The Panthers have won 27 consecutive games.

To see the list of all coaching changes statewide, click here.

–patrick

The best teams were hit hard by graduation. The best players are gone. In Class 1A six-man, the loss of the graduating class of 2014 has created uncertainty. In the first of our five classification previews, we look at how six-man might come together this fall:

Four questions to answer

What now? That’s the question many around six-man are asking. With the classification’s two most exciting players — Dubois’ Sterling Baker and Meeteetse’s Seth Bennett — lost to graduation, a big, gaping hole exists at the top of the classification for both individual and team accolades. Aside from the initial season in 2009, the six-man classification has never started a season with so much uncertainty.

So with all the turnover, who’s the favorite? Guernsey-Sunrise. The Vikings are the consensus favorite in six-man thanks to their bevy of returning players. Semifinalists a year ago, Guernsey will lean on back Brady Esquibel to help get the team back to Laramie for the first time since going undefeated in 2009.

What about out West? The West Conference is a complete toss-up this year — the two dominant programs last year, Meeteetse and Dubois, lost a lot to graduation, while the remaining teams in the conference (Snake River, Farson, St. Stephens and Ten Sleep) should all be vastly improved. Look for a lot more parity in the West than in the East.

Will Rock River win a game in its first varsity season? Probably more than one. The Longhorns, who have played junior-varsity ball the past two seasons, have proven that they won’t be a pushover once they make the move to varsity play. And the schedule is kind — Rock River faces two teams that went winless last season (St. Stephens and NSI) in its first two games of the season.

Four players to watch

Brady Esquibel, Guernsey-Sunrise. No returning player in six-man had more rushing yards than Esquibel’s 1,505 last year. He ran for 28 touchdowns, threw nine more and caught one, too, and was second for the Vikings in defensive points. If the Vikings are to cash in on their preseason ranking, it’ll be in big part thanks to Esquibel.

Rowan Hawk, Dubois. Hawk was a key piece of Dubois’ 2013 season, leading the team in catches and receiving yards as well as defensive points. His presence will be crucial if the Rams want to make it back to Laramie after missing out last season.

Shawn Shepperson, Meeteetse. The defending champs have a key returner in Shepperson, who led the team in defensive points a year ago. Shepperson is also Meeteetse’s leading returning rusher. His presence helps give the Longhorns experience and stability on a team that lost a lot to graduation.

Taylor Rouse, Kaycee. Six-man is a game for versatile players, and few are more versatile than Rouse. The only sophomore selected to the Class 1A six-man all-state team last year, he ran for 997 yards, threw for 645 more and had 226 receiving yards to boot. He led the Buckaroos in scoring and is also the team’s leading returning tackler.

Four key games

Guernsey-Sunrise at Kaycee, Sept. 13. It almost seems unfair to have the game that pits the two favorites for the East Conference championship in the second week of the season. But the Vikings and Buckaroos will figure out real quick if they’re going to spend the season as the one doing the chasing or the one being chased.

Meeteetse at Snake River, Sept. 13. The Longhorns’ defense of their West Conference championship starts with a road trip to Baggs to play what might be the most improved team in the classification. This game will be a key indicator for both teams early in the season.

Midwest at Kaycee, Sept. 27. If either the Oilers or Buckaroos want to make a serious run at a state championship game berth, this game will be critical. By late October, this game could decide who gets to host a playoff game and who has to hit the road.

Dubois at Meeteetse, Oct. 3. Don’t sleep on the Rams. Despite losing all-everything player Sterling Baker, Dubois has the athleticism to compete with any team in the classification — even the defending champs.

Predicted order of finish

East Conference: Guernsey, Kaycee, Hanna, Midwest, Rock River, Hulett, NSI. West Conference: Meeteetse, Dubois, Snake River, Farson, Ten Sleep, St. Stephens.

Way-too-early title-game score prediction

Guernsey-Sunrise 54, Kaycee 40. The Vikings are pretty much everyone’s preseason pick in six-man. Those are high expectations for a team that hasn’t been to Laramie since 2009, but Guernsey is deep and talented enough to justify those ideas.

So who do you think is the favorite in a year of uncertainty? Which team has the best shot to win it all in Laramie? Who might be a surprise? Share your thoughts with a comment or five.

Next Tuesday: Class 1A 11-man.

–patrick

Big Horn and Big Piney face off in a 2010 playoff game. Photo courtesy Charlynn Schmiedt. Posted to the Wyoming high school football group on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/groups/wyoming-football/

Big Horn and Big Piney face off in a 2010 playoff game. Photo courtesy Charlynn Schmiedt. Posted to the Wyoming high school football group on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/groups/wyoming-football/

In the last blog post, we looked at the increasing average margin of victory in Wyoming high school football games. Specifically, we noted that 2009 was the year in which margins of victory grew significantly.

But why 2009?

Well, the answer is pretty simple, really: conference size.

Conferences were restructured prior to the 2009 season; in that change, the number of teams per conference, especially in 4A, 2A and 1A, exploded.

In 2008, the largest conference in the state was six teams. In 2009, the smallest 11-man conference in the state were the two 3A conferences with six teams each; the conferences in 2A and 1A 11-man were eight teams deep while 4A made its move to one 10-team superconference.

We understood, even prior to the 2009 season, that travel mileage would increase because of this change. Here’s a blog post I wrote in January 2009 that addressed just this problem.

One of the hidden repercussions of the change, though, was the decline in the competitiveness of regular-season games. To be honest, I don’t think anyone foresaw that.

Yet, here we are. Teams are traveling farther to play in games that aren’t as competitive.

Just like in 2009, I think the answer is straightforward: smaller conferences.

Similar to the proposal I outlined five-plus years ago, I humbly submit these conference alignments for discussion:

Class 4A
East: Gillette, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne South, Sheridan.
West: Natrona, Rock Springs, Kelly Walsh, Laramie, Evanston.
Top four teams in each conference qualify for playoffs.

Class 3A
East: Douglas, Torrington, Buffalo.
Central
: Riverton, Rawlins, Lander.
Northwest
: Cody, Powell, Worland.
Southwest
: Green River, Star Valley, Jackson.
Top two teams in each conference qualify for playoffs. Conference brackets rotate on a three-year basis.

Class 2A
East: Wheatland, Newcastle, Glenrock, Burns, Wright.
North
: Lovell, Thermopolis, Greybull, Big Horn.
Southwest
: Pinedale, Mountain View, Lyman, Big Piney, Kemmerer.
Top two teams in each conference, plus the third-place teams in the Southwest and East (as the largest conferences) qualify for playoffs. Seeding set by rotation (teams from same conference won’t play each other in first round).

Class 1A 11-man
Northeast: Moorcroft, Tongue River, Sundance, Upton (or Upton-Sundance).
Northwest
: Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni, Riverside, Burlington.
Southeast: Lusk, Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Lingle.
Southwest
: Wyoming Indian, Wind River, Saratoga, Cokeville.
Top two teams in each conference qualify for playoffs. Conference brackets rotate on two-year basis (no cross-corner brackets in first round, e.g. Northwest teams won’t ever play Southeast teams in first round and Northeast won’t play Southwest in first round).

Class 1A six-man
Northeast: NSI, Midwest, Hulett, Kaycee.
Northwest: St. Stephens, Meeteetse, Ten Sleep.
Southeast: Hanna, Guernsey-Sunrise, Rock River.
Southwest: Dubois, Farson, Snake River.
Top two teams in each conference qualify for playoffs. Conference brackets rotate on two-year basis (no cross-corner brackets in first round, e.g. Northwest teams won’t ever play Southeast teams in first round and Northeast won’t play Southwest in first round).

+++

Smaller conferences allow flexibility. I’ve set this up so the largest conference is five teams, meaning that no one school will play more than four conference games — allowing at least half the season to be focused on close, competitive nonconference games. For example, in my proposal, Laramie is not in the same conference as any of the Cheyenne schools; however, the Plainsmen have enough flexibility in their schedule to allow them to play all three in the nonconference season.

Smaller conferences are not magic, though. And it creates flaws, especially in the playoffs. In the semifinal round, specifically, teams would “earn” hosting duties on rotation, not on record; with this system, it’s only a matter of time before some 4-5 conference champ hosts a 9-0 team simply because of the hosting rotation. We saw that quite a bit in the 1980s and 1990s, and it frustrated a handful of teams that were forced to travel — or left out of the playoffs completely (see Midwest, 1986, which went 7-1 but did not qualify for the postseason because of no other reason than playoff rotation).

To their credit, larger conferences and competitive-equity scheduling have made playoffs more representative of the “best eight” in each classification. And I do think that putting a focus on having teams play other teams of a similar skill level — other varsity teams when possible — is a laudable goal.

But the method used for establishing this competitive equity hasn’t worked — specifically, building massive conferences to develop competitive equity in the regular season and to get “the best eight teams” into the playoffs has resulted in increased travel, more blowouts and a more frustrating regular-season experience for players, coaches and fans.

I don’t think we’ll ever see travel levels reduced to the levels we saw in the 1990s, because some changes that Wyoming has made are here to stay. Schools are probably sticking with the eight-game or nine-game regular seasons; they’re probably going to let the WHSAA continue to do the scheduling; they’re probably not returning to scheduling two or three or four sub-varsity opponents in one season.

Smaller conferences won’t fix all of that. But they’re a start.

The conference alignments in use this year will also be used in 2015. The WHSAA won’t have the chance to address conference size until it goes through its next reclassification cycle in the fall of 2015, prior to the 2016 season.

Between now and then?

Better save your gas money. And start doing squats.

–patrick

Saratoga hosts Cokeville in 2009. Photo posted by user karasandlian to the Wyoming high school football photo pool on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/groups/wyoming-football/

Saratoga hosts Cokeville in 2009. Photo posted by user karasandlian to the Wyoming high school football photo pool on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/groups/wyoming-football/

This week, we’ve looked at the myriad options Wyoming schools have for reducing travel for ridiculously long road trips and we’ve examined how average travel distance has increased by more than 50 miles per game, one way, in the past 20 years. Today, we’re going to examine why schools have traded away short road trips for long ones.

In short, eight reasons explain why Wyoming schools are traveling more than 50 more miles per road game, one way, than they were 20 years ago:

1. Schools want competitive equity. This is BY FAR the most important of these reasons. Back in 1994, the state was in a bust cycle. Finances were a key concern for schools across the state. That meant keeping teams as close to home as possible, even if that meant playing a JV team or playing a game that was nearby but may result in a blowout.

Now, in 2014, the state is booming again. Finances still carry weight but, clearly, travel costs are less of a concern, and schools are more comfortable with traveling farther to play teams of similar skill level. All the other reasons listed below have their genesis in this reason.

2. The conferences are bigger. Competitive equity is not just tied to the regular season — there’s been a concerted effort to get “the best eight teams” into each playoff bracket. That means putting more teams into each conference to try to eliminate the possibility of an “undeserving” team with one upset to its name sneaking in to the playoffs, or having a second-place team in a small conference qualify for the playoffs even if it’s significantly worse than a third-place team in another conference that didn’t qualify. By far, the size of the conferences is the second-most important reason for increased travel, and it was directly spawned by competitive equity concerns.

For example, look at Tongue River’s 1998 season. The Eagles did not qualify for the playoffs, finishing 0-2 in the three-team Class 1A-Division I Northeast Conference. Meanwhile, Wright finished 1-1 in the Southeast Conference and qualified for the playoffs, despite losing to Tongue River 25-8 during the regular season. Of the six teams in the “East,” Tongue River was one of the four best but didn’t qualify for the playoffs for no other reason than its three-team conference was stronger than Wright’s three-team conference.

That was one of the drawbacks of small conferences — every once in a while, the conferences did not reflect an accurate dispersal of talent in the classification, and the best two (or four) teams in a conference qualified for the playoffs instead of the best eight in the state.

Consider this: Twenty years ago, the largest conferences in the state were six teams deep; some conferences were as small as three teams. In 2014, the SMALLEST conference in the state will be six teams; other conferences will be seven, eight, or in the case of Class 4A, 10 teams.

In theory, what happened to Tongue River in 1998 won’t happen with these larger regional conferences.

This is a small piece of a larger trend in Wyoming high school sports — the move from districts to regions. Just as other sports (specifically basketball and volleyball, and to a lesser extent track) changed from (northeast, southeast, southeast or southwest) district to (east or west) regional events starting in the late 1990s, football has moved from small district conferences of three to five schools to large regional conferences of six, seven or eight schools. The main reason why this has happened is simple: getting “the best eight” to state and competitive equity at the state tournament.

3. The regular season is longer. One of the biggest influences on Wyoming’s increased travel distances is its longer regular season. From 1993 to 2000, four of Wyoming’s five classifications had seven-game regular seasons (Class 3A had an eight-game regular season but a smaller playoff bracket). However, when the WHSAA took over football scheduling in 2001, schools in all classifications voted to expand to an eight-game regular season. By 2009, Class 4A schedules were officially expanded to nine games. Of course, with more weeks to fill, schools had to stray farther from home to find opponents.

4. Schools don’t play sub-varsity games anymore. Part of why the WHSAA took over football scheduling in 2001 was to help every school in the state complete a full schedule. Prior to 2001, many schools couldn’t fill out a seven-game regular season, much less an eight- or nine-game schedule. Schools that were most susceptible to this problem were the ones in far-flung places like Pinedale, Big Piney, Cokeville, Saratoga or Dubois. The WHSAA’s intervention was incredibly successful in helping schools fill out their schedules with quality varsity competition. The tradeoff, though, was that to fill those schedules with other varsity teams, teams had to travel farther (or teams had to travel farther to come to them).

5. Schools don’t play interclass games anymore. One of the fallouts of larger conferences is fewer nonconference opportunities. The trend, especially the last few years, has been for the WHSAA to fill those nonconference dates with teams from the same classification. For comparison’s sake: In 1994, there were 25 varsity-versus-varsity in-state interclass games. In 2014, there will be seven; they’re all in Week 1, and none of them involve Class 4A or Class 1A six-man schools.

6. The state has basically abandoned out-of-state scheduling. In 1994, Wyoming schools scheduled 24 out-of-state varsity football games. Those games had an average one-way distance of 121.2 miles — more than 20 miles shorter than the average game that year. In 2014, the WHSAA scheduled three out-of-state games. Three. Those other states, and the teams they contain, may as well not even exist. An easy way to get close, competitive games had been all but closed off.

7. Wyoming added six-man football. Six-man football’s resurrection in 2009 has definitely created some long road trips. But it’s important to note that six-man alone hasn’t thrown Wyoming’s travel stats out of whack. In fact, six-man’s anticipated travel in 2014 (average 190 miles per game, one way) is actually shorter than the state average (193 miles per game, one way) for the season. However, six-man’s influence has affected 11-man, too. Some schools’ move to six-man — particularly Guernsey, Hanna and Dubois — has eliminated some nearby games for regional competition, forcing those schools’ former opponents to travel farther for road games. Also, unlike their nine-man alter egos from the early 1990s, six-man programs can’t play 11-man teams in nonconference games.

8. Schools don’t want local control. Since power ratings were removed from the playoff qualifying equation after the 2008 season, the WHSAA has offered schools the chance to return to scheduling their own football games. Thus far, the schools have refused to retake local control. This way, schools’ schedules stay full — and the hassle of building a schedule stays with the WHSAA and away from the schools’ activities directors, who don’t mind the reduced workload — but opportunities for nearby out-of-state or sub-varsity games are greatly diminished.

The biggest reason why travel is as out of control as it is? Travel isn’t the priority in scheduling. Competitive equity is. Unless (or until) schools decide that travel, and travel costs, outweigh competitive equity, players will need to dedicate some extra time to squats to prepare their butt muscles for 50 extra miles sitting in the bus prior to kickoff….

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Still, the big question hanging over all of this has yet to be answered: Has the schools’ collective focus on competitive equity over travel really made a difference? Are games closer on the scoreboard now that competitive equity is the focus in scheduling?

In short, no. Actually, the focus on competitive equity in scheduling has made games MORE lopsided than before.

Here’s a look at the average and median margin of victory the past 26 regular seasons (no playoff games included) of Wyoming high school football — the 13 prior to the WHSAA taking over state scheduling and the 13 since. I’ve also included the standard deviation. Six-man results, which skew to larger margins of victory and which have only been around on a statewide basis since 2009, have been removed to allow for a comparison across all years:

Year
Average MOV
Median MOV
Std Dev
198819.81813.4
198920.61913.8
199019.61813.6
199118.91713.6
199220.41914.6
1993201813.5
199420.920.513.7
199518.71512.9
199620.71813.8
199720.42013.7
1998201813.7
199921.62015.1
200024.52414.8
200122.32114.2
200223.52016.5
200324.82315.1
200423.92115.4
200521.52114.4
200620.618.514.4
200719.81813.1
2008222015.1
200923.12016
201025.42417.8
201124.62216.1
2012272716.6
2013252315.5

A quick glance at this table tells us something immediately: The average margin of victory the past 13 years, since the WHSAA took over scheduling, is higher than it was the previous 13 years. But we need to dig deeper to see why.

It’s important to note that margin of victory was increasing before the state took over in 2001. The average MOVs in 1999 and 2000 were the highest they had been in more than a decade, and the WHSAA’s first schedule in 2001 actually reduced the average MOV from its 2000 peak. And even through 2008, MOVs stayed fairly stable and consistent — and not that much higher than the MOVs from the previous decade.

Then we hit 2009, and average and median MOVs exploded, all the way up to a one-season high of 27 (both average and median) in 2012. In fact, the four-year stretch from 2010-13 contains four of the five highest average margins of victory for the past 26 years.

Obviously, something changed. So what happened in 2009 that caused MOVs to explode? (Don’t say six-man. Remember, six-man results have been removed from this analysis.)

The answer is more straightforward than you think. And one simple change could address several of the problems Wyoming has seen the past few years. We’ll talk about it in the next blog post.

–patrick

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