WALLA WALLA - For weeks, the future of the Columbia Basin Big Nine (CBBN) was uncertain.
The Big Nine was embroiled in heated debate over an 8-7 vote on Dec. 15 by the leagues' principals to abolish the current divisions based on classification and establish north-south geographical divisions.
Due to the CBBN's bylaws, which require a super majority in any votes to change the league's format and stipulate that the league shall not be divided based on geography, that vote was thrown out by the Yakima Valley Interscholastic Activities Association after an appeal brought by several schools in the proposed north division. Since then, Tri-City school administrators have made clear their intent to form either a separate conference, or form north-south divisions within the 15-school CBBN.
Now the Big Nine's future is clear - it has been torn asunder. Superintendents from the Tri-Cities are meeting today to form a new league.
Walla Walla Public Schools superintendent Mick Miller, who chaired a committee held Tuesday to look at ways to save the beleaguered conference, said Thursday he was bitterly disappointed at the result.
"This was an issue of control in one sense and geography in another," Miller said. "I think we came to a compromise on the geography, but who would be in control, we didn't. I was really dissappointed in that."
The committee agreed on a compromise to schedule league football games with geographical consideration - meaning less travel for Tri-City schools - while retaining the current divisions based on classification. But, the Tri-City schools insisted that the CBBN's bylaws be changed to allow simple majorities in principals' votes, among other changes, which would effectively give the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla (should it vote with the Tri-Cities) control of the league.
"The Tri-Cities schools used words like non-negotiable," Yakima superintendent Elaine Beraza told the Union-Bulletin Thursday. "When you use words like non-negotioable, it makes it very hard to reach a compromise."
Miller, Sunnyside superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo and Beraza spearheaded the effort to reach a compromise on geographical concerns, Beraza said, but she was opposed to changing the league's bylaws.
"We gave it the old college try on that (scheduling)," Beraza said. "We had to look out for the interest of our kids. Even though we were willing to compromise on scheduling, we were not willing to change the bylaws."
As currently written, the conference bylaws prohibit the formation of divisions based on geography and calls for an equitable distribution of costs associated with travel. A shift to north-south divisions would have violated both rules.
Miller is attending the meeting held today regarding the formation of a new conference and, although he has not committed, is leaning toward joining the new Tri-Cities league. Information regarding the outcome of that meeting was not available at the time the Union-Bulletin went to press. However, updated information on that meeing will be posted on www.union-bulletin.com as it becomes available.
If the southern schools do indeed secede from the CBBN, there are several potential downfalls.
Primarily, the Tri-Cities-based league would only have access to one postseason berth instead of the two berths available currently - three, if one includes a play-in with the Greater Spokane League.
Some feared that scheduling non-conference games would become more difficult due to animosity between northern and southern schools after the breakup. However, both Miller and Beraza said that, although tensions were high at recent Big Nine meetings, they did not expect that to be a problem.
"One of the nice parts in that meeting (held Tuesday was) some of the deep divisions in the past were brought up, but it was done so very calmly," Miller said. "I am bitterly disappointed that the breakup happened, but I'm not angry about it. At a point schools have to make a decision that benefits their district and students."
And with the end of annual matchups, comes the end of several traditional annual rivalry matches.
"(I'm) a little bit relieved (to have a decision made), but more than anything disappointed," Miller said. "Life goes on, and it's exciting to create something new, but tradition is going away."
Miller said Wa-Hi would look to schedule matches with Hermiston and Pendleton, both Oregon 5A schools, as a replacements.
"For us (Wa-Hi), scheduling of an eight-team league (assuming that is the case) is pretty favorable," Miller said. "For the north, scheduling is going to be hard. They're going to be playing each other a whole bunch."