After six years of getting used to the 14-team, three-classification Northwest Conference, things have changed once again.
Reclassification affected four schools in the conference, dropping Blaine and Mount Baker down from 2A to 1A and Sedro-Woolley from 3A to 2A, and bumping Mount Vernon up to 4A and out of the conference all together.
The conference is now left with eight schools in the 2A/3A levels (Anacortes, Bellingham, Blaine, Burlington-Edison, Ferndale, Lynden, Sehome and Squalicum) and five at 1A (Blaine, Lynden Christian, Meridian, Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley).
While not much will change for the conference races in other sports, football basically will separate the conference into those two divisions. In essence, it will feel very similar to the old Northwest League and Whatcom County League.
Though the WIAA will not announce district allotments for state playoff berths for a few more weeks, here's a look at how reclassification is expected to affect the postseason structure in football:
After reclassification, Ferndale was left as the only 3A school in the Northwest Conference, but rather than switch to the Wesco, the Golden Eagles decided to stay put.
"We took a look at everything and thought it was important to stay with the Northwest Conference," athletic director Vic Randall said in a phone interview. "We have been a part of this multi-classification league that we were a part of putting together, and it has worked so well for the Whatcom-Skagit county area. This is where we need to be. The competition is good, our fans can travel to away games and it keeps our old rivalries together."
Obviously, there will no longer be a NWC 3A division for football, and the Golden Eagles will compete with the seven NWC 2A teams for a 2A/3A conference title. That means Ferndale will now have seven "meaningful" games during the regular season, as opposed to only two they've had the past four years.
"We've all been in the same league before in the same classification," Ferndale football coach Jamie Plenkovich said. "We're all about the same size, as we were then. It's just where the classifications are drawn. We're going to have a league champion in the 3As and 2As, and we're excited to compete for that. The football in this league is very good, no matter what level you're playing at."
After Week 9, Ferndale will compete with teams from the Wesco North 3A (Everett, Marysville-Getchell, Marysville-Pilchuk, Oak Harbor and Stanwood) and the Wesco South 3A (Glacier Peak, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace, Shorecrest and Shorewood) in the 3A Northwest District playoffs.
The Golden Eagles will be seeded into the district playoffs depending on their winning percentage in NWC 2A/3A games as compared to Wesco teams' winning percentages in conference play. With the district expecting to receive three berths into the state playoffs, only the top six teams advance to the district playoffs.
The highest seed Ferndale can receive in the district is the No. 2 seed, and it should be able to host a district playoff game as either a No. 2 or 3 seed. Depending upon the berths to state, the Golden Eagles may even get to host a game in the first round of the state playoffs.
"We're really going to enjoy playing with the Wesco," Randall said. "We were a little nervous what the playoffs would look like, but we feel this is really fair. The Wesco was very fair with us, as we have been fair with them."
The seeding procedure into the district tournaments in other team sports should be similar, but the highest seed Ferndale can receive in those sports is a No. 3 into an eight-team bracket.
The seven NWC 2A schools (Anacortes, Bellingham, Burlington-Edison, Lynden, Sedro-Woolley, Sehome and Squalicum) obviously will play Ferndale for the NWC 2A/3A title in football.
After Week 9, they will join the Cascade Conference 2A schools (Archbishop Murphy, Cedarcrest, Granite Falls, Lakewood and Sultan) in the Northwest District and the two 2A schools from the Sea-King District (the Kingco's Lake Washington and Sammamish) for the district playoffs. The addition of the two Kingco teams should help offset the loss of Blaine, Mount Baker and South Whidbey to help the district continue to receive a similar number of state berths, which is expected to be three or four.
In years that the district receives three berths to state, three teams will advance to the district playoffs from the NWC, two will enter from the Cascade Conference and one from the Kingco. In four-berth years, the top four NWC teams would advance along with three from the Cascade and one from the Kingco. There would no longer be the extra play-in game before Week 10.
"When the WIAA saw that those two Kingco 2A schools were going to be orphaned, they told District 1, District 2 and District 3 to come up with a way to make it work," Bellingham athletic director Chad Larsen said. "After discussions, this was the most fair way to do it for everybody involved, and I think we came up with a way will actually helps us get this district an extra berth to state."
The seeding for eight-team district tournaments in other team sports should be similar and will again involve the top team from the Kingco.
Blaine, Lynden Christian, Meridian, Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley, along with Friday Harbor, will compete for the NWC 1A regular-season football title.
That means the end of the home-and-away series each year that LC, Meridian, Nooksack Valley and Friday Harbor have seen. Instead, there will be five conference games that affect postseason positioning.
"I like not having to play Meridian twice and LC three times, like we did last year," Nooksack Valley football coach Robb Myhre said. "It will be exciting to see Baker and Blaine again. I'm not excited to play them, because those are two really good schools, but we're all excited to renew those old rivalries and build them back up, even if it's just for the next two years."
The six NWC schools will join with the Cascade Conference's Coupeville, King's and South Whidbey for the district playoffs. The top three or four NWC teams are expected to advance to the postseason, depending on the number of berths to state.
The 1A Northwest District playoff winners would then move on to tri-district playoffs with schools from the West Central District (the Nisqually League's Bellevue Christian, Cascade Christian, Cedar Park Christian, Charles Wright, Chimacum, Eatonville, Life Christian, Port Townsend, Seattle Christian and Vashon Island).
The format for the tri-district playoffs is not yet set and likely will depend on how many berths the tri-district gets to state.
"For me, it's who ever they put on the schedule," Mount Baker football coach Ron Lepper said. "They just need to tell us when and where to show up. When they tell us we're done, we'll stop."
District and tri-district tournaments will be used in other team sports, but the tri-district tournament also will include 1A schools from the Sea-King District's Emerald City League. Friday Harbor will not be a member of the NWC for non-football team sports. The Northwest District tournaments are now expected to use eight-team brackets.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.