The Greater Oregon League could see a revival in 2020.
Or, at least, become a hybrid of greatness in football.
And Baker High School buses might put on fewer miles besides.
The Oregon School Activities Association’s football ad hoc committee has been looking to realign some leagues for the final two years of the 2018-22 block, and its latest proposal, announced this week, would create a league in Eastern Oregon similar to the GOL of the early 2000s.
Under the proposal, GOL members Baker, La Grande and Ontario, all 4A schools, would join a 4A/3A hybrid special district for football with Class 3A Eastern Oregon League teams Nyssa, Vale and Burns.
Mac-Hi would also be in the hybrid district, as it is moving down to 3A for football beginning in 2020. Current EOL teams Umatilla and Irrigon are set to move down to 2A starting next year.
Since Oregon’s shift to a six-class system beginning in the 2006-07 school year, the GOL has been a four-team league — and this fall it was forced to be a three-team entity when McLoughlin went independent for football.
“The (ad hoc) group supports this new league configuration as it addresses the league size issue immediately and provides an opportunity to demonstrate that mixed classifications within a single district can be viable,” OSAA’s update on Monday’s ad hoc committee meeting says.
The move, if the ad hoc committee sets it as its final recommendation to the OSAA executive board Jan. 22 and is subsequently approved Feb. 10 by the OSAA, helps resolve the biggest issue that has plagued the GOL the past 14 years — the lack of teams, forcing league members to scramble to find nonleague opponents.
Jason Ramos, who recently finished his first year as Baker’s head football coach, said he would welcome a change.
“We’ve got to have something other than a three-team league,” Ramos said.
Even with two games scheduled this fall against GOL rivals La Grande and Ontario, Baker had to find four nonleague opponents after Mac-Hi’s relatively late defection from the GOL.
The Bulldogs ended up playing games at Bend, 250 miles away, and at Willapa Valley, Washington, a one-way trip of more than 400 miles. La Grande’s longest trips were 388 miles to Cottage Grove) and 315 miles to Clatskanie.
The proposed hybrid special district, by contrast, would add schools that are much closer. Vale and Nyssa — the latter was Baker’s season-opening opponent this fall — are both a little less than 90 miles, and Burns, which would be the longest trip for a league contest, is 150 miles.
“This proposal would certainly help with the travel issues,” Ramos said. “It’ll be interesting to see if all parties are on board.”
La Grande football coach Rich McIlmoil also endorsed the proposed new league.
“I’m excited that we’re not in a three-team league anymore (if this passes),” McIlmoil said. “All of us (GOL coaches) decided we did not like playing each other twice each year.”
The top two 4A teams and 3A teams in the new district would qualify for the playoffs for their respective classifications.
“How they decide those teams is up to the league,” said Brad Garrett, OSAA executive director.
Garrett said that unless there is a groundswell of opposition against the proposal between now and the final January meeting, he not only sees it being the final one presented to the OSAA.
“I see the board adopting this,” Garrett said.
La Grande athletic director Darren Goodman said his preferred choice for a league setup is different from the seven-team proposal, but he believes the latter would create a competitive league.
“Ideally I would like a six-team league with all 4A schools, but that’s not really available right now,” Goodman said. Because of their location relative to other 4A schools, the GOL teams have struggled to schedule games with schools of similar size. The four current GOL schools are among only nine schools in 4A east of the Cascades.
“The teams from the other side of the state don’t want to drive this way,” Goodman said.
The other five Class 4A schools east of the Cascades are several hours from the GOL schools — Sisters, Madras, and three schools in Klamath Falls, Mazama, Henley and Klamath Union. Madras played down to 3A for football this season, though it will move back to 4A in 2020. The Dalles and Crook County, both 5A schools, do play down in football. The Dalles will be bumping back up to 5A next season, but Sisters will slip to 3A.
It has been a struggle in the past for GOL teams to find five or six games to fill a complete schedule for football.
To remedy that, GOL rivals Baker, Ontario and La Grande in 2016 elected to play each other twice. As a result, the schools had to find just three out-of-league opponents, but with Mac-Hi’s decision this season to play an independent schedule, the teams had to scramble to add more contests.
OSAA executive director Brad Garrett said a discussion with Gary Robertson, Mac-Hi’s athletic director, after the proposal was announced gave Garrett the impression that the Pioneers could defect and play an independent schedule again.
“I think based on a preliminary conversation with Mac-Hi they are considering it,” Garrett said.
Even if that happened, La Grande and Baker would still have five league games, and would likely avoid the lengthy trips to fill the holes created by Mac-Hi’s defection this year.
The hybrid would bring back together several GOL rivals from 2000-03. La Grande joined what was then a 3A league in 2000, and each team in the proposed hybrid with the exception of Nyssa was in the GOL during that four-year block. At the time, the eight-team league also featured Grant Union and Riverside. Grant Union dropped to 2A in 2002, and Vale followed in 2004.
The move will also help the EOL schools as they, like the GOL, have had several instances in recent years where they’re stuck with just four teams in the league, and even were in a three-team league in 2014 like the GOL this year. The EOL would have been looking at a four-team setup next fall.
Also in the latest update, the committee said its preference on a proposed idea for 9-man football at the 2A level is to wait and reconsider it for the 2022-26 block. The 6-man pilot will also continue for two more years.
— Jayson Jacoby of the Baker City Herald contributed to this story.