The Oregon School Activities Association’s reclassification process for the upcoming season resulted in significant changes at the 5A level, especially in football.
But the primary result from Lebanon’s perspective is the revival of the Warriors’ long-standing rivalry with the West Albany Bulldogs. That rivalry went on hold to a great extent over the past several years after West Albany was promoted to the 6A classification.
Now it’s back.
“I grew up in Lebanon, grew up playing against West Albany, and it’s just a traditional rivalry that is back,” said Kraig Hoene, the athletic director at Lebanon High School. “From an administrative standpoint, their athletic director Pat (Richards) is a great guy to work with. I think it’s going to be a pretty smooth transition.”
Lebanon football coach Ty Tomlin is also happy with the return of West Albany to the Mid-Willamette Conference.
“It will bring another team that is tough to beat and is a tough out,” Tomlin said. “Our league is probably the best in 5A football and having them back to up the ante is good for the league.”
Starting this fall, the Mid-Willamette Conference will be comprised of nine schools in sports which have standard leagues: Central, Corvallis, Crescent Valley, Dallas, Lebanon, North Salem, Silverton, South Albany and West Albany.
In football, the OSAA organized the 5A classification into just three special districts. The Mid-Willamette Conference forms the bulk of Special District 3, with the nine regular members being joined by McKay, a 6A school. The Royal Scots will compete at the 5A classification in football and will be eligible for the state playoffs in the same manner as all other teams in the conference.
Earlier in the process, Cascade High School was in line to be made a 5A school and would have joined the Mid-Willamette. Through the appeals process, Cascade remained at the 4A level. The final decision on this question came in late spring and made it difficult for administrators at many schools to finalize their schedules for the upcoming season.
For Lebanon, the final configuration of the conference cost the Warriors an intriguing opening night game against Wilsonville.
The Wildcats knocked the Warriors out of the 5A state playoffs in the quarterfinals in 2017. In 2016, Lebanon defeated Wilsonville in the 5A state championship game.
Hoene and his counterpart at Wilsonville High School, Athletic Director Dennis Burke, thought the communities would enjoy a season-opening rematch in 2018.
But when the final conference alignment was released, any hope of playing a non-league game was eliminated. All of the teams in the 5A Special District 3 will play a nine-game regular season in which they only face off against league opponents.
The Warriors will open their season on August 31 at Corvallis.
Tomlin also had hopes that this year’s schedule would be different, but his plans were more dramatic. Along with other coaches in the league, Tomlin supported a plan which would have divided the league into North and South divisions, similar to the Pac-12 Conference.
Each team would have played all four teams in their division, two games against teams in the other division, and two non-league games. At the end of the regular season, the teams in the North and South would have been paired off according to standings. The first-place teams would have played each other, and the matchups would have continued down the standings.
“We kind of liked it because it built in some excitement to the end of the regular season,” Tomlin said. “The coaches liked it and felt it would have been good for our league and our fans, but it just didn’t work out.”
This format would have created a conference championship game and it would have also allowed the battle for the fifth and final playoff game from the league to be decided on the field in the matchup of the two third-place squads.
One disadvantage would have been the potential to play a conference opponent twice in the same year.
Tomlin said that when Cascade’s move to the league was canceled, the plan lost favor and was ultimately not approved by school administrators.
The other reason Tomlin liked the plan was that it gave schools the opportunity to schedule two non-league games. The OSAA uses an RPI system to seed teams in the postseason and it is difficult to properly measure RPI when teams don’t match up with opponents from out of league.
“RPI is big for seeding and at some point, I think we’re going to regret not having a chance to show our league’s talent against other opponents,” Tomlin said. “If they are going to have an RPI system, you need to have a week to demonstrate that out of conference.”
Looking beyond football, Hoene is anxious to see how the return of West Albany to the 5A classification and the Mid-Willamette Conference will impact South Albany. The Rebels have been more competitive in recent years while West Albany was in the 6A classification.
“Back when South and West were both in the same classification, a lot of the kids in Albany went to West. When they moved up a class, it seemed like South kept a few more kids,” Hoene said. “Hopefully that momentum they’ve created will be enough to keep those kids home.”