New athletic league for Wa-Hi, Tri-Cities makes sense

It's unfortunate the Big 9 has broken up, but the cost of travel throughout Eastern Washington is no longer affordable.

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The grab for cash in major college football has resulted in the makeover of several big-time athletic conferences. Football powers are jockeying to be in the best position to compete for the national championship and make millions of extra dollars for their schools.

But the breakup of the high school athletic conference that blanketed Eastern Washington -- the Columbia Basin Big 9 -- was driven by a desire to save money.

It was decided last week, after negotiations went nowhere, for the Walla Walla High School and the seven Tri-Cities' high schools -- Pasco, Chiawana, Kennewick Kamiakan, Southridge, Richland and Hanford -- would break away from the 4A/3A Big 9 to form their own league.

This will leave the Big 9, which had 15 members, with six member schools -- Davis and Eisenhower from Yakima, Eastmont (East Wenatchee), Wenatchee, Sunnyside and Moses Lake. (The Sunnyside School Board on Thursday voted 3-2 to remain with the Big 9. West Valley, which is just outside of Yakima, has opted to drop down to 2A and join another conference.)

It is unfortunate that an acceptable deal couldn't be worked out that would serve the best interests of all 15 schools.

But, in the end, overcoming the geography was too much.

Wa-Hi and the seven public high schools in the Tri-Cities saw finding a way to significantly reduce travel as the top priority. The long trips from Walla Walla to Wenatchee several times during each season was chewing up the athletic budgets. The 130 miles to Yakima also took a toll.

Not all that long ago high school sports were somewhat insulated from budget cuts. No more.

State government has been pinched for the last few years as tax collections have not kept pace with expenses. As a result, the funding from the state for local school districts has remained stagnant. The budget belt has been tightened for everything, including sports.

It just makes sense to reduce travel. Scheduling more games between the schools in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland is a no-brainer.

It is understandable the schools in Yakima, Sunnyside, Moses Lake and Wenatchee would resist such a plan. They didn't see the benefit of going to two divisions.

In the end, this move will benefit Wa-Hi.

The rivalries between Wa-Hi and some the schools -- Richland, for example -- are already strong. Those rivalries will grow stronger and new rivalries will emerge as Wa-Hi faces the Tri-Cities' schools more often.

The costs of running Wa-Hi athletic programs will be reduced. Students (as well as their parents) won't have to endure as many long road trips. Student athletes will miss less class time.

Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities going off on their own was the wise choice to make.

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