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Why high school sports are broken in Nevada and one way to fix the problem

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Rancho football players take part in a drill during practice Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.

Friday, March 7, 2014 | 2 a.m.

Rancho Football Practice

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The way Nevada high schools are classified for athletic competition desperately needs to be fixed. Too bad nobody with power is willing to step up and champion what’s best for our children by hitting the reset button on realignment.

Take the Rancho High football team, which hasn’t won a game since 2011 and in the past two seasons has been outscored 1,004-82.

Or the Rams’ boys basketball team, which has a 9-38 record in the past two seasons and is 0-20 in league games.

Rancho doesn’t belong in Division I, the state’s top classification, where schools such as Bishop Gorman, Centennial, Coronado and a few others seem to be the lone ones hanging championship banners.

But when realignment is discussed at the end of March at the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s Board of Control meeting, don’t expect officials to fix the problem.

They are determined to continue using a formula they adopted two years ago when realigning schools. The formula successfully shipped struggling programs such as Desert Pines and Cheyenne to the lower level but has still proved to be flawed.

Rancho was its own worst enemy in the formula ­— called the 2012 Nevada Rubric — because its baseball team advanced to the 2011 state tournament to give the school enough points to stay on the top level. Officials assumed if a school could find ways to win at one sport, it could figure it out in another.

That hasn’t been the case.

Rancho’s aviation magnet program attracts top-level baseball players from across the city, coming together for an all-star team of sorts. But in football and basketball, the Rams are lucky to find enough players — mostly neighborhood kids — to field a team.

The formula called for teams with the most points to be elevated from Division I-A after the spring 2014 season and those with the fewest points to be sent down. Schools with less than 1,200 students had the option to stay at the lower classification, meaning Division I-A powerhouses Boulder City and Faith Lutheran won’t move.

For major sports such as football, basketball and baseball, five points are given for winning a first-round playoff game, 10 for winning a regional semifinal game, 20 for making the state semifinals, 30 for reaching the state championship game and 40 points for winning a state championship. Points are also given for making the playoffs: four for the No. 1 seed on down to one for the No. 4 seed.

Teams with 15 or more points, no matter how bad they are at certain sports, will stay in the top level. So, if Rancho makes the baseball playoffs this spring and wins a postseason game, the rest of the Rams’ teams will be in for two more years of losing.

Sucks, right?

Since the system was put in place for the 2012-13 school year, Rancho has just nine points through the basketball season ending last week. Del Sol has no points, Spring Valley four, Sierra Vista six and Desert Oasis 11. Valley High has 19 points, most of which have come from its basketball team advancing to Sunrise championship game last season and the Sunrise semifinals two weeks ago.

By comparison, Centennial, Coronado and Gorman each have more than 200 points. In football, the same four teams in the Sunset Region have made the semifinals the past five seasons, receiving little push-back from the region’s other eight teams.

The formula will likely send Del Sol, Spring Valley and possibly Sierra Vista — its baseball team is like Rancho’s and capable of a deep playoff run — to Division I-A for the next school year, giving officials false satisfaction the system is working. But what about the other teams? And not just Rancho or Eldorado, which is stuck in Division I because it was the state champion in soccer.

Basic, Bonanza, Cimarron-Memorial, Desert Oasis, Durango, Eldorado, Legacy, Shadow Ridge, Sierra Vista, Silverado and Valley will be relegated to taking their lumps in Division I another two years, even though the past two years showed they couldn’t compete.

There are a few exceptions.

Silverado and Sierra Vista baseball have previously won the state championship and will always be competitive because they each have a quality head coach. Legacy was a top-five team in football for most of last season, Valley basketball is a perennial top-10 program and Cimarron used to dominate in every sport.

There’s an obvious solution: Realign sport by sport.

That would keep Rancho baseball against Coronado and Gorman, and put Rancho football against schools it can compete against, such as Sunrise Mountain. It would keep Sierra Vista baseball in the top league and send its other programs down. But that’s not financially responsible, officials argue.

Under the sport-by-sport scenario, Clark and Desert Pines basketball would play in the top level, but its girls teams would be in a lower classification. On game nights, the boys and girls teams take the same bus to games, meaning a different schedule for boys and girls wouldn’t be practical.

The next-best solution would be to realign with three classifications, creating a division between the current Division I and Division I-A for the likes of Basic, Bonanza and Durango.

Imagine a 12-team Super Division with Arbor View, Canyon Springs, Centennial, Coronado, Foothill, Gorman, Green Valley, Las Vegas, Liberty and Palo Verde. Instead of football games ending each week under the mercy rule of a running clock, there would be competitive games each week. It would be fun for the players on both teams.

The newly formed middle division would include Silverado, Durango, Sierra Vista and others, those schools doing just enough to reach the postseason in most sports but never seriously threatening to place a championship-ring order with Jostens. They would get to experience the thrills of playing for something meaningful — what high school sports should be about, after all.

Every team deserves a chance to compete for a championship. Let’s fix realignment this March, not in two years, so another school year isn’t wasted.

Those kids at Rancho deserve better.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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