Squalicum athletic director Patrick Brown announced Friday, Jan. 15, that the school will not pursue an appeal to the WIAA Executive Board on the reclassification numbers that were released a day earlier.
“We’ve been through the the process and counts with the WIAA and also our registrar and OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) reports,” Brown said in a phone interview. “At this point, we feel confident that their counts are accurate and the process was done correctly. ... We’ll be embracing it as we move forward.”
Moving forward, Squalicum will be the third-smallest Class 3A school for at least the next four school years beginning this fall.
With thoughts of an appeal in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to take a look at what the Northwest Conference will look like now.
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For most sports, nothing much will change. The 13 schools in the NWC will compete against each other during the regular season and then break off to go to their respective classification’s district tournaments or meets when the postseason arrives, the same as it’s been for the past 10 years since the conference was formed.
But with football, things likely will look very different this fall.
Though plans are still in the preliminary stages, it appears the Northwest Conference will no longer exist in football.
In its place will be three Northwest District-wide leagues formed for each of the three classifications — Class 3A, Class 2A and Class 1A — combining teams from the current NWC, Wesco and Cascade leagues.
“Our No. 1 rationale is competitive balance,” Lynden athletic director Mike McKee said. “We’re getting more haves and have nots in football. It doesn’t do the have nots any good to play the haves and get beat up every single week. That doesn’t give you an opportunity to grow your program.”
McKee and the other athletic directors believe that by doing away with the multi-classification leagues for football — a sport where turnout numbers play a big role in success — they can make more balanced leagues that are safer for student athletes and give programs more opportunity to grow.
For example, the Bellingham football program had to pull out of the Northwest Conference the past two years to give new coach Ted Flint an opportunity to build up the program rather than continually facing teams from one of the toughest leagues in the state week in and week out.
“Our second reason is for a cleaner postseason,” McKee said. “We want to get the right teams through to the postseason, and the teams that do move on, we want to give them a better chance to succeed.”
For example, the athletic directors in the district wanted to avoid a situation like Ferndale faced last fall, when the Golden Eagles had a team capable of winning a state playoff game or two. But because Ferndale was the only 3A school in the Northwest Conference, it had to battle through a Tuesday-night play-in game just to get to a quad-district game against No. 2 Bellevue the following Saturday.
“For us to be able to bring all the facets together between the coaches and administration and form three different leagues and make as much ground as we have in the past month, I think it speaks highly of the schools and the people in this district,” McKee said. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the athletic directors from all the schools. The fact that everyone in District 1 is looking at the big picture and what is best of everyone is pretty impressive.”
The specifics of the 2A and 3A football leagues should be finalized in the coming weeks, while Nooksack Valley athletic director Tom Harmon said the 1A schools agreed on the schedule format last week.
So let’s take a look at how the three new proposed leagues would break down:
Potential North Division: Ferndale, Squalicum, Arlington, Marysville-Getchell, Marysville-Pilchuck, Oak Harbor and Stanwood.
Potential South Division: Edmonds-Woodway, Everett, Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Shorecrest, Shorewood and Snohomish.
Proposed regular season format: Teams would play the six other teams in their division once, leaving two dates for non-league games.
Proposed postseason format: The top two or three teams (depending on the number of state berths the district is awarded) would cross over to play teams from the other division in Week 9. Winners of those district playoff games would move on to the quad-district playoffs in Week 10, using much the same format 3A has used in recent years.
Potential benefits of proposal: Ferndale and Squalicum would have the same chance to advance to state or win a district title as the other 12 teams in the league.
Potential drawbacks of proposal: Both schools will likely have to travel a bit further than they have in recent years and both will have fewer chances to play their traditional rivals from Whatcom County with only two non-league games.
What I like about the plans and what our football coach likes about it is it gives us a real opportunity to advance. Ferndale and Squalicum now have an opportunity to win a district title and the opportunity to move on. You’ll have to face the traditional powers eventually, but at least you’ll have a chance to move on.
Squalicum athletic director Patrick Brown
Teams: Archbishop Murphy, Anacortes, Bellingham, Blaine, Burlington-Edison, Cedarcrest, Granite Falls, Lakewood, Lynden, Mountlake Terrace, Sedro-Woolley and Sehome.
Proposed divisions: Athletic directors and coaches would divide teams into two six-team divisions, attempting to make the divisions as competitively equal as possible. While travel will be a concern when drawing the divisions, McKee said the No. 1 consideration would be “making it impossible to say you’d rather be in this division over the other.” McKee said it has not yet been decided how often the divisions will be redrawn.
Proposed regular season format: Teams would play the other five teams in their division once, leaving four dates for non-league games.
Proposed postseason format: The top three or four teams (depending on the number of state berths the district is awarded) would cross over to play teams from the other division in Week 10, with the winners advancing to the state playoffs. McKee said the district also is investigating joining Sea-King District 2A schools Sammamish and Liberty and whether that would benefit either or both districts for berths to state.
Potential benefits of proposal: Every school should have an equal chance to advance to postseason play with both divisions weighted evenly. Also, struggling programs would have the opportunity to build, rather than getting hammered each week in an overly tough league.
Potential drawbacks of proposal: Increased travel costs, with schools spread from Lynden to Mountlake Terrace, though McKee said athletic directors will make sure a northern school isn’t placed in a division full of schools from the south. There also could be the loss of some traditional rivalries, as teams will find themselves in divisions with new opponents and the divisions could be re-drawn as often as every year.
The thing we really wanted to do was improve the competitive balance. We didn’t want a situation where you have five or six league games where you’re getting beat down and beat up. You still might have two or three really tough games, but we’re cutting that in half. We’re trying to set it up so every program can become more competitive
Lynden athletic director Mike McKee
Teams: Bothell Cedar Park Christian, King’s, Lynden Christian, Meridian, Mount Baker, Nooksack Valley, South Whidbey and Sultan.
Regular season format: Teams will play all seven teams in the league once, leaving three dates for non-league games.
Postseason format: Postseason berths will be decided by the final league standings. Week 10 will be the final week of the regular season, so there will be no postseason crossover games within the district or with another district. The only potential playoff before state would be to break a three-team tie.
Potential benefits of new format: The four Whatcom County schools would no longer have to play each other twice. The postseason picture is cleaned up, eliminating the taxing crossover playoff system that sometimes required playing half games or two games in a week.
Potential drawbacks of format: Travel for league games will be a bit longer, with teams spread from Nooksack Valley to Bothell, but Harmon said the schedule will be set up so that teams will not have to make more than two long trips in league play.
I think this cleans up a whole lot for the 1As. Not that the other system was bad, but there were too many things with the tri-district that made things difficult on the teams that advanced. Playing that many games in a short period had the potential to tire teams out. ... I think our coaches are excited.
Nooksack Valley athletic director Tom Harmon