I attended last week's realignment hearings thinking it would be a fairly simple process. I even had some suggestions in mind, just in case the Utah High School Activities Association's board of trustees needed a little guidance in the proceedings.
So did representatives from more than 20 high schools.
That fact right there showed me that not only is realignment a difficult, complicated and touchy issue, but also that the board of trustees might deserve an award for trying to balance what they think is fair with the concerns of the UHSAA's member schools when setting up regions and classifications for 2009-13.
Last Tuesday's hearings marked the first opportunity for schools to give rebuttals to the board of trustees' first draft proposal. The concerns mostly came from schools that were being moved to a different region or a larger classification. Most complaints seemed reasonable.
The board of trustees will have some awfully tough decisions to make before the next realignment plan is finalized in June. There are plenty of pressing concerns, but these are the ones that have stood out in my mind the most in the last week:
• The schools in St. George should not be subjected to playing in a three-team league. Not only does the setup cheapen a region title, but it is also unfair for Dixie, Pine View and Snow Canyon to compete in such a tiny region. Play seven or eight nonleague football games and then have two that count? Unreasonable.
Being placed in a larger 4A league will require some extensive traveling on the part of the St. George schools, as well as whichever schools would be placed in a region with them. At the hearings, Dixie principal Larry Bergeson said the St. George schools are willing to travel. It's time for some other schools to step up and join them on the roads.
• The new alignment should not be decided on enrollment numbers alone. They are a good guide to use as a first draft, but the current state of schools' athletic programs have to be taken into account.
For instance, Ogden was placed into 4A on the first draft. Ogden in 4A? No way.
The Tigers are struggling to compete in the major sports in 3A. This school year, they ended a 22-game losing streak in football and won just five games in boys basketball. Ogden doesn't have freshman football or freshman baseball teams because not enough athletes come out to play. Leave the Tigers in 3A.
• I like how Granger approached the board. The Lancers gave some reasons why they feel they shouldn't be placed into 5A, but concluded by saying the athletic department is rebuilding and will be ready and willing to return to 5A in the next realignment period in 2013.
As impressed as I was, I had to wonder if Granger may have made a moot point by the time the hearings were over. In the first draft, the cutoff enrollment number for 4A and 5A was 1,600 students. But board members discussed dropping it to 1,500 later in last Tuesday's meeting. That seems to not only seal the fate of Cyprus, Granger and West (each of which voiced their opposition to the first draft), but it would also seemingly increase the chance that Cottonwood, Hillcrest and Murray will be included in 5A because the three schools have more than 1,500 students.
No matter how many complaints or concerns the board listens to during the next couple of months, there are no easy realignment answers. For instance, Gunnison struggles to compete with the bigger 2A schools in football, but is the defending state champion in baseball and the favorite to win another title this season.
So would you put the larger 2A schools Manti, Richfield and Juab in 3A as the board did in the first draft proposal as Gunnison would like? Or would you say that Gunnison's winning state titles in other sports is proof that Manti, Richfield and Juab can stay put?Now imagine about 20 other similar scenarios. That's the task the board of trustees is facing in the next few months.