Greg Jayne: Football disparity requires action

Commentary: Greg Jayne

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

At times, the results have appeared as one-sided as the Battle of Little Bighorn.

There was a 77-0 contest, and a 70-0 outing, and a 58-6 final in which Camas led Fort Vancouver 51-0 at halftime.

Football games throughout the Greater St. Helens Leagues this season have been more akin to a seal hunt than a clash among Titans, with the average margin in matchups of Class 4A or 3A teams from Clark County standing at 36.4 points.

That’s despite a running clock that goes into effect when the lead hits 40 points. Five years ago, before the existence of the running clock, the average margin was 18.6 points. In 1996, the average was 14.7 points.

And while mismatches are an occasional fact of life in any high school sport, the level of disparity on the football field this year calls for some thoughtful discussion.

So let us turn to Jon Eagle, the thoughtful coach of the 7-1 Camas Papermakers.

“One thing we need to ask is, ‘Are the kids going to the school where they live?’ ” Eagle said. “I’ve been at schools that have benefitted from kids moving in. I am aware of that. I know that.”

So maybe Eagle is well-positioned to point out the role that transfers and relocations play in creating superpowers and third-world programs across the landscape of high school football.

Parents are more willing than ever before to move into a certain school’s boundary for the sake of athletics, and you can’t really blame them as long as they follow the rules. If a family is willing to relocate in order to be part of a successful program, it can tilt the balance of power.

“People are having success because all it takes is one or two or three or four kids moving in and you have a completely different team,” Eagle said.

So that’s one factor. Everybody loves a winner, especially when they can be a part of it. But there are other factors, as well.

Eagle, who happens to coach at a school filled with students from affluent families, said some programs “worry about, ‘Have my kids had breakfast?’ I’m worried about, ‘Am I going to have 60 kids or 80 kids going to the Oregon State camp this summer and paying $300 a pop?’ ”

As Columbia River coach John O’Rourke said: “The disparity between the economic levels of the family is one of the factors. And then, how supportive are they of the kids sticking it out?”

Some things are beyond the purview of high school administrators. Some schools have economic and demographic advantages that all the Occupy movements in the world can’t remove.

But the level of disparity that has been exposed this year requires some action. A game in which the clock runs non-stop throughout the second half diminishes the experience for the fans and the coaches and, especially, the players.

So why not take the Class 4A and 3A GSHL leagues and divide them by the ability of their programs rather than the enrollment of their student body? Why not have a Tier I league with Skyview, Union, Camas and, I don’t know, maybe Columbia River, Mountain View and Prairie? The remaining teams would be in Tier II, where at least there would be some hope for some competitive games.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Union coach Cale Piland. “It’s just that I look at our league and you’re going to see some cyclical stuff. The problem with high school sports is that the kids rotate through.”

Good point. So why not have a relegation system, like in European soccer? The last-place team in Tier I would move to Tier II the following season, replaced by the top Tier II team.

There I said it: Clark County football should be more like European soccer. I will now flog myself with a thicket of brambles.

Yet, as O’Rourke said: “I don’t have the solution, but I think we should explore some solutions. It’s probably not a good thing for any competitive sport to have this level of disparity.”

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne