WILSONVILLE — The La Grande and Baker football programs’ move to a 4A/3A hybrid league is one step away from becoming a reality.

The OSAA’s football ad hoc committee last week gave its final recommendation for the state’s league realignment for 2020-21, and the proposal of a hybrid between the 4A Greater Oregon League and the 3A Eastern Oregon League — an idea first put forward in mid-December — is still in play.

The special district — which would look very similar to the old GOL of the early 2000s — would consist of La Grande, Baker, Ontario, McLoughlin, Vale, Nyssa and Burns. La Grande, Baker and Ontario would be in the 4A end of the district, with Mac-Hi, Vale, Nyssa and Burns on the 3A side.

Mac-Hi will move down to the 3A level for football as the Pioneers met both the old criteria of having an in-classification winning percentage under 22% in four years, and the proposed new criteria of a 22% winning percentage in two years.

The move will greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the struggles of the schools in both halves of the league to find extra nonleague games, as each team will have six league games instead of just three or four.

The GOL last year had just three teams in the league after Mac-Hi made a late move to play an independent schedule, and the league has had only four teams since the OSAA’s major state reclassification from four classes to six back in 2006-07. As a result, both Baker and La Grande had to take lengthy road trips — Baker’s longest was more than 400 miles one way and La Grande logged 388 miles on one of its trips — just to fill the nonleague portion of the schedule.

The EOL a year ago had five teams, but Umatilla and Irrigon are set to drop to 2A, and even with Mac-Hi’s move to 3A it still would have been a four-team league.  

Under the proposed change, both the 4A and 3A ends of the league would qualify two teams for the playoffs in their respective classifications.

The ad hoc committee’s final recommendation does not include a prior proposal to implement 9-man football for Class 2A, though the committee, according to the update from the OSAA, is looking to make a change for 2A by 2022 and will make its recommendation prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. Nine-man football is still under consideration for 2A, and — if selected — would mean 2A schools desiring to play 11-man football would need to move to 3A to do so. It would also take all 2A schools currently playing at the 1A 8-man level and move them back to 2A.

A second model being considered, described as “Big 8 — Little 8,” would make two separate 8-man divisions between 1A and 2A schools based on the OSAA’s adjusted enrollment numbers. Like the 9-man proposal, 2A schools wishing to play 11-man would have the option to play up to 3A. 

Six-man football also will remain in place for two more years, but like the first two years of the pilot, no state championship will be awarded by the OSAA. The committee update states a desire to have at least 25 schools finish the 6-man season before considering a championship for the level.

Last year, 15 teams played 6-man football, but two had to forfeit or cancel games at the end of the season due to a lack of players.

There are currently 19 schools that would play 6-man football in 2020. That includes Joseph — who reached 6-man's de-facto title game two years in a row — Huntington and Prairie City/Burnt River. Pine Eagle also is slated to drop down to 6-man football.

The rest of the tri-county region’s schools will remain unchanged, with 1A schools Cove, Elgin, Imbler, Powder Valley and Wallowa staying in Special District 3, and 2A schools Enterprise and Union playing down to the 1A level, also in SD3. 

The OSAA’s executive board will review the proposal for possible adoption Feb. 10. 

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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