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

3 Thoughts on “How smaller conferences can help fix Wyoming’s football travel problems

  1. Grant Holmstrom on July 27, 2014 at 6:14 pm said:

    Another great series Mr. Schmiedt!

  2. Boyd on July 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm said:

    I would try to use three conferences (or regions) in 4A and move the traditional rivals to Rock Springs and Evanston back up to 4A (such as Green River, Star Valley, Riverton, etc.) By doing that, the WHSAA could then put Laramie with the 3 Cheyenne schools and the Northeast group of Casper, Gillette, and Sheridan could work as either a 4-school or 5-school conference (depending on when the 2nd Gillette HS opens).

  3. Patrick on July 31, 2014 at 6:21 am said:

    Hi Boyd,

    Not a bad idea. I tried not to fudge with the number of schools in each classification to show that, even with the existing structure, smaller conferences could be achieved.

    –patrick

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