The NIAA, which governs high school sports in the Silver State, held a Tournament Format Committee meeting at its Reno headquarters Tuesday with the plan to finalize recommendations for its quarterly Board of Control meeting in March. It did just that, but everyone from high school coaches and athletes to fans should expect pretty much the status quo in coming years.
In Nevada’s large-school prep ranks, there are three regions — North, Sunrise and Sunset. Each region is comprised of two leagues. This will be called Division I starting with the 2012-13 school year. It has been known as the 4A. Sparks schools Reed and Spanish Springs fall into this category.
Qualifying for the postseason likely won’t change in this classification. The committee voted to recommend that the current procedure for team sports continue — the top four teams from each league, after regular season play, advance to compete in a regional playoff format.
Soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball fall under this plan. It is expected that large-school football in the North will go back to a two-league format next fall after playing in a one-league format the past two seasons. Northern 4A athletic administrators are set to vote on that Monday.
“Our goal is to be competitive in every sport and I think we are,” Reed High athletic director Ron Coombs. “Across the board, we’ve been very successful over a very long time in pretty much everything … With a two-league format, I think taking the top four is the fairest way to do it.”
Spanish Springs AD Art Anderson had similar sentiments.
“It’s always nice and good for programs when they make it to the playoffs,” Anderson said. “It’s a good incentive for athletes to work toward that reward. I know there was talk of limiting the playoffs to the top three teams and we could have lived with that, but four teams allows for more competition within the playoffs.”
Originally, the committee was indeed set to recommend only the top three teams from each league advance to postseason play with league champions receiving a first-round bye. But committee members seemed to feel there was less support for that stance after talking with coaches in their area.
Committee member Bret Walter may have summed it up best. The Faith Lutheran High AD talked about the NIAA’s creation of the new Division 1-A, which is made up largely of schools that formerly struggled to compete at the highest levels of competition. He said those schools will now get to compete for something but that former middle-of-the-road schools, who remained in Division 1, would have been out of playoff mix sooner and altogether by trimming playoff qualifiers from four to three.
“I’ve felt like from the beginning, we’ve been trying to get the most opportunities possible,” Walter said. “You’d have seventh or eighth-place teams that now get to compete for something, but fourth-place teams in D-1 that don’t make it when they had in the past. To be fair, we had to have equal opportunities.”
While the aforementioned plan applies to the regional playoffs. State playoff tournaments will still be made up of four teams. When state events are held in northern Nevada, two north teams and two south teams advance to state. When state events are hosted in the South, three south teams advance to state and only one north team.
Individual sports are a bit different, but limited changes were recommended there. Postseason qualifying for golf, tennis, wrestling, swimming and track will not change.
One change that will be recommended for individual sports comes in cross country. The committee will recommend that the top three teams from each region advance to the state championship meet. In some years, select regions only qualified two teams to state.
NIAA assistant director Donnie Nelson said the new recommendation makes sense since all schools field teams and it would have minimal to any increase to expenses.
“I’m so impressed with Donnie all the time and how he keeps everything straight,” committee member and Washoe County School District Coordinator of Athletics Ken Cass said. “His mastery of this process is pretty amazing.
“The change to cross country would not put a big burden on us in Washoe County. Budgeting is always a crapshoot for state travel. It’s usually about the same. We budget for a worst-case scenario. We have a good handle on it.”
The Rail City’s third high school, Sparks, will compete in the newly created Division 1-A format. The committee will recommend that two teams from Division 1-A’s Northern Region and two teams from Division 1-A’s southern region advance to state play.
“Four and four would be something everyone would like but given the times and economics, two and two makes sense,” Sparks High Athletic Director Rob Kittrell said. “It’s a fair balance. I think we’ll see some good four-team state tournaments. It makes sense. It’s a good thing.
“Our goal every year is to get our programs competing at their maximum capability. When we have the talent, that state stuff will take care of itself.”
NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine believes the committee’s recommendations will be met with positive feedback from the organization’s Board of Control.
“The guys on this committee, at this table, have a lot of experience,” Bonine said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here. We’re not making much change.”