Traditional conference schedules and state rankings have been pushed aside for the 2020-21 high school sports season, the Oregon Schools Activities Association announced.
Due to concerns regarding team travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s high school sports governing body said Thursday it will not require schools to participate in their assigned leagues, nor will there be rankings to determine postseason play.
“The feedback we got that made a lot of sense, given the travel issues that schools are anticipating, staying in close proximity just made more sense,” said Peter Weber, the executive director of the association. “Every school and district is in a different spot with how they are dealing with the pandemic. We thought after feedback that trying to provide as much flexibility as possible made sense.”
School districts in Central Oregon have been preparing for the possibility of both scenarios leading up to the decision, while the hope was there would be a chance to compete in their respective leagues. So the association’s news did not come as a surprise.
“We saw it coming,” said Dave Williams, the athletic director for Bend-La Pine Schools. “I’m going to start planning with the rest of our Central Oregon constituents and hopefully everyone is on board.”
School teams do not have schedules for their upcoming seasons. Planning for the upcoming season becomes a little easier now that there is guidance from the activities association, Williams said. There is still a lot to do before the next season starts in a little over two months, he said.
Remaining flexible is key for the activities association as the hope is for Season 2 to start on Dec. 28. Some school districts — including the Salem-Keizer district, which shares a conference with the three Bend high schools — have already extended their distance learning into February, meaning contact sports and indoor competitions are not permitted by the Oregon Health Authority. Getting back in the classroom is the first step to getting back to competition.
Other districts could have to make similar moves to extend distance learning in the future, making it difficult to forecast what schools could be facing down the road. There is a possibility that some schools will have to stop playing during the season, Weber said.
The activities association has left it up to the schools to determine what determines regional play. There is no set distance that schools must stay within.
“I think it is the best idea,” said Sisters athletic director Gary Thorson, on playing a regional schedule. “It is not ideal as a competitive piece, but we will get what we can get. The smart thing is for areas to start setting up schedules but have our leagues intact.”
Weber cited leagues like the Portland Interscholastic League, where all the schools are within a 15-mile radius of each other and do not have the same travel issues as those in Central Oregon, where teams have to cross multiple counties and make trips over 100 miles to play league opponents.
Weber also said it would be preferred if teams make a shorter trip to play against a different classification rather than making long-distance trips.
By eliminating the ranking system, which dictates postseason play, schools are now less inclined to schedule opponents from far away. The regular season and postseason play have already been condensed, fewer games will be played in a shorter window.
Central Oregon finds itself in a tricky situation to create schedules that are competitive for each school. The area’s 13 high schools span all six of the state’s classifications.
“There is no question some sports where we have no business going up against the Bend schools, Redmond schools or even Crook County,” said Thorson, whose teams compete at both the 4A and 3A levels.
Athletic directors will meet in early November to try and work out a schedule that can work for everyone in the area. The activities association is hoping to make a decision about Season 2 before its next executive board meeting Dec. 7.
“It is going to take some outside-the-box thinking to get down there and play,” Williams said.