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Six-class plan is a mess

Just in case you've been living under a rock for the last 10 months, the Oregon School Activities Association has been working overtime to get a plan approved for the 2006-2010 time block that would change the landscape of high school sports in this state - switching from a four-classification system to six classes.

On June 9, the OSAA got its wish when State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo upheld the controversial and hotly-contested proposal, guaranteeing that prep sports in Oregon will be divided into six classifications beginning next school year.

Castillo's final order came down after a lengthy appeals process started by school districts in Eugene, Salem and Medford, who argued that the new plan would add sports-related travel time, thereby increasing expenses and keeping students out of the classroom.

Castillo ruled in favor of the OSAA, but she didn't seem happy about it, saying her 'hands are tied' based on state laws and administrative rules. She even went so far as to say that in the coming year she will introduce legislation to prioritize the criteria under which the redistricting process is done, ranking student safety and academic success ahead of everything else - including athletics.

Castillo is 100 percent right on this issue. Unfortunately, she is powerless to do anything about it.

While it was certainly laudable - and necessary - for the OSAA to tackle the issue of competitive balance, the association may have gotten carried away. When the reclassification process first started, there were schools with over 2,000 students competing in the same league as schools with under 1,000. The issue needed to be addressed and corrected.

But the question now is whether Oregon really needs six classes to properly distribute its schools. Shouldn't four classes be enough with some simple reorganization?

The idea, originally, was to isolate the biggest schools so they weren't competing unfairly with much smaller schools. But now the OSAA has created six classes and the size discrepancy at the top end is huge, while at the bottom end it is quite minute.

For example, the new 6A class (with a few geographic exceptions) encompasses schools with enrollments between 2,568 and 1,521 - a difference of almost 1,000 students from largest to smallest. Meanwhile, the difference between the smallest 1A school (Sonrise Academy) and the biggest 4A school (Cottage Grove) is just 829 students.

Did I miss something? How is that any better than the old system?

The enrollment varies wildly in the 5A and 6A classes, but the differences in size are pretty subtle in the lower classes. Do we really need separate classes to distinguish between schools with 100 students and schools with 200 students? Or 300? Or 400? Because under the new plan, all four of those hypothetical schools would fall in different classes.

So after 10 months of debate and discussion, arguments and lawsuits, the issue of competitive balance hasn't really been addressed at all.

Castillo seems to be one of the few in this debate who understands that there's a lot more at stake than just athletics.

Unfortunately, her hands are tied - and they'll remain tied for the next four years.

Zack Palmer is the News-Times' sports editor. He lives in Portland with his wife and two dogs.