For nearly a year, the organization has grappled with the cost-cutting issue, and after an emergency realignment plan came under fire late last spring, NIAA officials went back to the drawing board. The NIAA formed a pair of realignment committees — one in southern Nevada and another here in northern Nevada — and instructed members to study the issue and come back with ideas for a new alignment plan.
That resulting realignment proposal was sent out to the NIAA's member schools earlier this week and it has piqued interest from Elko to Reno to Las Vegas.
“I really like it,” said Ken Cass, a member of the north committee who oversees athletics for the Washoe County School District. “It really addresses what the superintendents asked the NIAA to do: think outside the box and save money.”
Nevada's high schools are currently separated into four classifications: 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A. Classification in based on enrollment, with 4A schools having the largest enrollment and 1As the smallest. Schools now only compete against other schools in their same classification for league and playoff competition.
Under the new alignment proposal, league play could pit schools from different classifications against each other, but playoff competitions would match only schools from the same classification. For example, a league could be comprised of 3A and 2A schools, but a regional or state tournament bracket would match only schools of like classifications.
This is a big change from the current school of thought, but many Silver State educators believe it will result in a huge cost savings as schools stay closer to home rather than traveling long distances during their league format to compete against a school with a similar enrollment.
“This is much different,” said Charlie Walsh, another north committee member and the athletic administrator at Sparks High School. “We looked at a lot of different things. We threw out the enrollment numbers and looked at saving money, travel mileage and class time. It was kind of neat.”
Right now there are 15 large or 4A high schools in the Northern Region, which includes both Reed and Spanish Springs. Under the new proposal, current 4A schools Elko, South Tahoe and Fallon would become 3A schools. That would leave 12 Northern 4A schools, which would likely stay in their two divisions — the High Desert League and Sierra League.
Also under the new proposal, existing 3A and 2A schools in northern Nevada would join to form three leagues. The Mount Rose League would comprise Sparks, Incline, North Tahoe, South Tahoe, Truckee and Whittell. Additionally, 4A Wooster would play in the Mount Rose for football only as an independent member, leaving the Colts ineligible for postseason play.
“I think it's really good for Sparks High,” Walsh said. “I actually love it. I don't think it's a good thing. I think it's a great thing. It actually answers a lot of questions.”
The Lahontan League would be made up of Fallon, Dayton, Fernley, Lovelock, Rite of Passage, Silver Stage and Yerington. The Ruby Mountain League would be home to Elko, Spring Creek, Lowry, Battle Mountain, West Wendover and White Pine.
“We are not re-inventing the wheel here. It's been like this in a lot of states for a long time,” NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said about schools of different size playing each other in league play. “We're not saving hundreds of dollars. We're saving thousands and that helps your gate when more people come to the game because they don't have to travel so far. ... There may be a bump here or there. If so, we'll tweak it. But we wanted to save money and save class time. This is good.”
Nevada's smallest schools, the 1A teams, are left largely unchanged.
Washoe County could see a savings boom by not sending countless sports teams to Elko each season. Even relatively shorter travel trips to South Tahoe and Fallon would be eliminated and result in more savings.
The reverse holds true for Elko County, which would not send teams into the Truckee Meadows on a weekly basis. The proposal is expected to save the most for the state's rural school districts, but Bonine and Cass both pointed out that Clark County could expect to scale back its travel expenses under the new plan, as well.
“The first thing we looked at was saving money,” Cass said. “Then we looked at geography and thirdly competitive balance. How could we match those things? They were our three guiding principles ... I think the committee did a good job. We all knew we were under the gun.”
NIAA leaders are asking the state's high school administrators to comment and for their approval or disapproval by the end of the month. Bonine will then take the proposal to the state's school district superintendents who, because they control school funding, are in effect the NIAA's supervisor. If the proposal gets the superintendents' mandate, it will likely be rubber stamped by the NIAA's Board of Control in March. That would leave prep athletic athletic officials across the Silver State a few months to finish master schedules, which would go into effect for the 2010-11 school year.
Bonine was quick to point out the proposal, if passed, would be used for just two years before a new alignment plan would be voted in for a four-year period starting in 2012-2013.
“This is a two-year alignment initially,” Bonine said. “If it's successful, great. If not, we'll go back to the drawing board.
“Even if the economy does bounce back in a couple years, if we can save money, we should. We got fat and sassy and maybe we need to cut back. Let's see who is standing in a couple years. We may have to do something else. But this proposal is a positive step in the right direction.”