At its June 22 meeting, the NIAA’s Board of Control gave Clark County schools permission to scrap their current 4A-3A alignment to better address competitive balance issues. The southern 3A, which has just three schools, will be dissolved. Those three schools will join 10 existing 4A schools to make a new 4A Division II. The remaining 24 4A schools will play in a 4A Division I.
The changes will go into effect for the 2012-13 school year. The divisions will be separate classifications and play for separate regional and state championships.
So what does that mean for state tournament play that pits North schools against South schools? The changes in southern Nevada leave athletic administrators in northern Nevada with decisions to make.
The Northern 4A must decide if it will play at the Division I or Division II level for state play. Then, the Northern 3A must decide if it wants to become a stand-alone classification, or become a 4A Division II, assuming the existing Northern 4A opts to go Division I.
“At this juncture, I’d hope the Northern 4A would go Division I and the Northern 3A would make a Division II, because there is no more Southern 3A. That would still give us two different state champions,” NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said. “Which North schools go to which Division does not matter to me as long as they use competitive balance as the benchmark.
“If the Northern 3A chooses not to do that, we could support that and have a 3A state champion just from the north … I don’t foresee that option, but if they choose that, it’s OK.”
A formula being called the “Nevada Rubric” is being applied to assign the South schools to the separate divisions. The rubric takes into account a school’s finish in all sports over the past two seasons. Points are awarded for postseason qualification and postseason wins. Regional and state titles are worth more points.
There is no mandate from the NIAA forcing Northern 3A and 4A schools to use the rubric to align, but Bonine said he plans to show state prep athletic officials how it would work.
“What I am going to do, and it will get some people riled up, is use the Rubric the south now has to show competitive imbalance in the North,” Bonine said. “People think I have an ulterior motive. I don’t. I’m applying it so the NIAA Board can see what a Northern 4A D-1 and D-2 would look like.”
Most believe the rubric will show that current Northern 4A members Hug and Wooster should join a D-II with Northern 3A schools. If that happens, that would leave an 11-team Northern 4A D-II and 10-team Northern 4A D-I.
“The rubric could be applied to other leagues and other classifications,” NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson said. “Right now it’s just for southern Nevada but it was created to serve two purposes, to help the southern 3A schools and to help the fledgling southern Nevada schools. This solves both of those needs in Clark County.”
The rubric system for southern Nevada calls for struggling schools in Division I to drop into D-II while flourishing D-II schools would move up to D-I, at the conclusion of two-year realignment cycles. Bonine said smaller D-2 schools, those with fewer than 1,200 students, who are excelling would have the option to play at D-1 but would not be forced up.
Bonine would like to see Northern leaders make decisions sooner rather than later.
“We’ll want something from them (Northern 4A and 3A leaders) before we go to our October meetings. We want to build schedules for 2012-13. I don’t see a lot of hangups. It’s just a matter of changing the heading.”
Bonine was alluding to the NIAA’s next Board of Control meeting, set for Oct. 3-4 in Las Vegas. The Northern 4A’s athletic administrators meet August 8. They are expected to start tackling the new realignment issues then.
“It’s going to have to be ironed out soon,” Nelson said. “We in the NIAA haven’t had any discussions with the North folks about this yet so the discussions in August will be preliminary … There are a lot of great questions and it will be a lot of fun to ask those questions. There are a lot of options on the table.”
What’s on the Horizon
•Early indications show the Northern 4A will choose to fall under the 4A Division I classification while the Northern 3A, with potentially a few new members, would indeed go to the 4A Division II classification.
“I believe wholeheartedly we are going to compete in Division I,” said Ken Cass, who oversees athletics for Washoe County schools. “That will be part of our Aug. 8 Northern 4A meeting. I think everyone in the North still wants to go against the highest level in the 4A South. I wouldn’t want to have our best teams not competing against their best. I think it makes sense to play at the highest level.”
He’s not alone. Reed football coach Ernie Howren has built his program into arguably the premiere prep gridiron program in the North. He has competed against southern Nevada foes on several occasions in recent years with mixed results. But he still wants his Raiders matching up against the best.
“I would love to keep it the way it is,” Howren said. “I want to play the best teams. We have great programs up here in the North and there’s a handful of great programs in the South. I don’t want to play smaller schools just to win a state championship. I want to keep it where we’re playing the top schools.”
Howren’s sentiments were echoed by Bishop Manogue boys basketball coach Bill Ballinger. The Miners coach has guided Reno’s private Catholic school to consecutive Northern 4A crowns and back-to-back state tournament appearances. Last winter, Ballinger’s Manogue squad upset heavily favored Bishop Gorman in a state semifinal before falling to Canyon Springs in Nevada’s large-school championship game.
“I just think we’ve proved we can compete with them (southern Nevada’s top teams),” Ballinger said. “I hope to continue to compete with them. I would much rather play those that consider themselves the best. Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s that much difference.”
There are some who think a conservative approach needs to be taken when studying the realignment choices, before the North rushes in.
“In certain sports it might be time to let the top schools in the South go to a 5A situation,” Spanish Springs athletic director Art Anderson said. “In individual sports i don’t think it’s necessary, but in team sports possibly. We are the largest school in the North and there are South schools with 1,000 more kids.
“I think we in the North do a pretty good job of staying competitive, but it could be time, maybe more for economic reasons than competitive ones.”
In the 3A ranks, Sparks High AD Rob Kittrell is one of the more educated and outspoken administrators on realignment issues. He’s seen the value in changing classifications after watching his school struggle early last decade when it was still in the large-school ranks.
He doesn’t think there’s much debate coming on the Northern 3A’s future.
“It’s hard to speak for everybody, but from the discussions I’ve heard, we in the Northern 3A would play in the 4A D-2 and the Northern 3A would be eliminated,” he said. “I think that’s how it will play out.”