Are you ready for the death of SEWAC football? For all but ending of out-of-state football games? For absolutely crazy travel?
Wyoming’s football landscape could be changing big time as the WHSAA board of directors meets this week in Casper. And all of the above could come true — because no one will want to be known as the guy who voted against sanctioning six-man football.
By all accounts, the return of state-sanctioned six-man football — something that hasn’t existed in Wyoming since 1956 — is exactly what the state needs. With two teams already playing in Montana anyway, three current 11-man programs ready to drop and four more new programs already approved by their respective school boards, six-man football makes way too much sense for Wyoming not to have it.
But at what expense?
With the rearrangement, conferences for Wyoming’s other four classifications have been expanded (granted, proposed to expand, but still…) to fill the change.
Here are how the conferences would shape up if passed on Tuesday, courtesy of my other blog, the one I get paid to write:
Class 4A: Gillette, Kelly Walsh, Natrona County, Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne East, Evanston, Green River, Laramie, Rock Springs, Sheridan.
3A West: Cody, Jackson, Lander, Powell, Star Valley, Worland.
3A East: Buffalo, Douglas, Rawlins, Riverton, Torrington, Wheatland.
2A West: Big Piney, Greybull, Kemmerer, Lovell, Lyman, Mountain View, Pinedale, Wyoming Indian.
2A East: Burns, Big Horn, Glenrock, Moorcroft, Newcastle, Thermopolis, Tongue River, Wright.
1A 11-man West: Burlington, Cokeville, Dubois, Riverside, Rocky Mountain, Saratoga, Shoshoni, Wind River.
1A 11-man East: Hulett, Lingle, Lusk, Normative Services, Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Sundance, Upton.
1A six-man: Fort Washakie, Guernsey, Hanna, Kaycee, Snake River, Meeteetse, Midwest, Rock River, Ten Sleep.
Look at that closely. One Class 4A conference with 10 teams. Two Class 2A and two Class 1A 11-man conferences with eight teams apiece. One six-man conference with nine teams.
When did big conferences become vogue? And why?
Dig deeper and more problems become apparent.
The proposal calls for the 10 Class 4A teams to play each other in a nine-game round-robin regular season, with the top eight teams advancing to the playoffs. That means absolutely ZERO non-conference games. One of the ideas behind eliminating the WHSAA power ratings as a way to decide playoff qualifiers was to put more emphasis on conference play. But if EVERY game is a conference game, then it’s sort of like power ratings never went away.
Also, it’s the WHSAA’s plan to use Zero Week for the first 4A games. Um…. have you ever watched one of those games/scrimmages? About 15-20 percent of the kids can’t play because they don’t have the minimum number of practices. And what about schools that start school the same day of practice (like the two Casper schools, among a few others)? They would be at a huge disadvantage that first game simply because they’ve had about half the practice time that their opponents have had.
As for the Class 2A and 1A 11-man levels, conference games are way, way too prevalent, as well. With eight teams per conference, the WHSAA’s plan is for Week 1 to be a non-conference game against somebody from the other conference (i.e. the eight teams from the 2A East would play someone from the 2A West) and the remaining seven games would be conference games. Once again, conference play dominates the schedule — and that creates huge ramifications and fallout that I don’t think anyone truly understands.
Take, for example, Burns. The Broncs are a Class 2A East team in the proposed alignment, and their closest conference game is with Glenrock, more than 180 miles one-way. And with only one non-conference game — which will be against a 2A West team — Burns is looking at six hour round-trips, minimum, for each of their road games.
Burns already has several schools of similar size within 130 miles — namely, traditional SEWAC rivals Pine Bluffs, Southeast, Lingle and Lusk in Wyoming; Kimball, Mitchell, Morrill, Bayard and Bridgeport in Nebraska; and Julesburg and Merino in Colorado. But the Broncs won’t be playing any of them in this new alignment.
Speaking of 2A, take a look at Greybull and Lovell. Those two schools are in the same conference as the old-school Southwest with Pinedale, Big Piney, Kemmerer, Lyman and Mountain View, as well as conference throw-in Wyoming Indian. So instead of playing the likes of nearby Burlington, Riverside, Powell or Thermopolis, Greybull and Lovell will be playing teams that are in some cases more than 300 miles away.
Basically, interclass games will cease to exist, while out-of-state games will be eliminated for all but the 3A classification.
Re-read that sentence and then think about it. Hard.
Several of the games that make the most sense logistically and competitively will be eliminated. No more Douglas-Glenrock, or Riverside-Greybull, or Shoshoni-Wyoming Indian or Wind River-Wyoming Indian, or Evanston-Star Valley…. instead, teams — and their fans — will be forced to travel two or three times further for a game that will likely provide the same amount of competition. Where’s the sense in that?
I think the clear answer is to break up some of those conferences. Why have an eight-team conference when two four-team conferences will work just as well, reducing travel and keeping competitive games closer to home? Just take the top two from each conference to qualify for the playoffs. What’s wrong with interclass games and small conferences?
(By the way, what happens when Wyoming Indian decides it wants to play down in Class 1A, as it’s opting to do now? Will the WHSAA deny WI what it’s granted for the past several years for the sake of even conferences and easy scheduling? If so, will the 1A West become a nine-team conference? Eight conference games and then the postseason? Wow.)
Not that I’m in charge, but here’s how I’d set it up:
4A North: Gillette, Kelly Walsh, Natrona County, Sheridan, and one of the Cheyenne schools.
4A South: Evanston, Green River, Rock Springs, Laramie, and the other Cheyenne school.
3A East: As is: Buffalo, Douglas, Rawlins, Riverton, Torrington, Wheatland.
3A West: As is: Cody, Jackson, Lander, Powell, Star Valley, Worland.
2A Northeast: Big Horn, Moorcroft, Newcastle, Tongue River.
2A Southeast: Burns, Glenrock, Wright.
2A Northwest: Greybull, Thermopolis, Lovell, Wyoming Indian.
2A Southwest: Big Piney, Kemmerer, Lyman, Mountain View, Pinedale.
(Quick 2A explanation: I’d have the second-place team from the SE play the third-place team from the SW in, like, Rawlins, the Monday before the first round of the playoffs to qualify. If WI dropped to 1A, the play-in would rotate annually between the second-place team from the NW and the second-place team from the SE against the third-place team from the SW…. the other second-place team would qualify automatically….)
1A Northeast: Hulett, Normative Services, Sundance, Upton.
1A Southeast: Lingle, Lusk, Pine Bluffs, Southeast.
1A Northwest: Burlington, Riverside, Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni.
1A Southwest: Cokeville, Dubois, Saratoga, Wind River.
As for 1A six-man, the round-robin schedule and a nine-team conference makes sense. It’s not like they have a whole lot of options for non-conference games anyway, and the nine-team set-up works perfectly for an eight-game schedule.
But for 4A, 2A and 1A 11-man, splitting the conference works better. There are more options for non-conference scheduling — and building up the team chemistry and fundamentals that coaches know are essential to their teams’ success before conference games — and it would reduce travel for a good number of the schools involved. And it CAN be done without sacrificing the sanctioning of six-man football.
Here’s the rub: The vote is scheduled to go down Tuesday afternoon. Changing the conference alignments — as we saw last time around — can be done in November if need be. But football schedules usually come out before that November meeting.
If no one on the WHSAA board is willing to speak up on Tuesday, there will be more than a little bit of hell to pay once the coaches, players and parents actually see an alignment like this in action. And right now, no one wants to speak up because they don’t want to be the one that’s remembered as the one that killed six-man.
Even though, if they do it right, they can have both.