Dividing Big 9 by geography makes sense

Travel costs would be reduced for most schools. Yet, the plan to go to a North and South division threatens the league's future.

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Athletics are an important part of the high school experience.

Competitive sports can be a great source for learning life lessons -- from the importance of teamwork to focusing on achieving goals. Plus it gets kids off the couch and moving. And students who don't play sports also benefit as rooting on the various teams boosts school spirit.

But running high school athletic programs is very expensive even with the athletes' families picking up some of the costs through fees. Today, given the dire financial situation in state government that has taken a toll on overall education funding, athletic budgets -- like all budgets within schools -- are stretched very thin.

So, as a way to reduce travel costs, it was suggested the Big 9 Columbia Basin Athletic Conference, which has 15 member 4A and 3A schools stretching from Walla Walla to Wentachee, be divided geographically rather than by enrollment classification.

The plan makes a great deal of sense, which is why it was originally approved by officials -- albeit by a narrow 8-7 vote.

Putting Wa-Hi together with the seven schools in the Tri-Cities in the South Division made sense because it would reduce the number of trips teams would have to take to the Yakima Valley, Moses Lake and Wenatchee. The schools in those areas are not all within an hour of each other but they are, given the size of Eastern Washington, relatively close. Overall travel would still be reduced somewhat.

Lumping 4A and 3A schools together in the same divisions is not much of a problem because schools in these classifications are generally pretty equal when it comes to the level of competition. And because school enrollment seems to fluctuate rapidly -- particularly in the fast-growing Tri-Cities area, schools go up (and sometimes down) classifications as new schools are built or boundaries change.

Unfortunately, the North Division schools aren't happy with the plan. All seven voted no on the plan. They have been granted an appeal by the Yakima Valley Interscholastic Association, which governs this region. As a result, the plan could unravel leaving the Big 9 as a splintered mess.

There is talk of the South Division seceding to start its own eight-team league. In the North Division, it's possible that West Valley -- a 2A school that opts to play up at the 3A level -- could bolt to join a 2A league with other teams in the Yakima Valley.

It would be best if the 15-team Big 9 league could hammer out its differences and stay together. Having the wide array of teams allows for teams to schedule non-conference games against each other to fill out their conference schedules. The schools are familiar with one another and this breeds good, healthy competition.

Having students spending less time traveling should benefit their school work and, of course, saves a lot of money. It will also save their parents a lot of travel time and expense. Let's hope reason prevails so the framework of this sound plan can be adopted.

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