CHSAA OKs conference realignment

The Southwestern Conference in football is no more.

But that’s OK with most people involved.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve wondered why we haven’t done this before,” Grand Junction head coach Robbie Owens said. “We’re excited about playing in a 5A conference.”

Fresh off a Class 4A runner-up finish, Montrose head coach Todd Casebier said it will be nice to be in a pure 4A conference.

“I never liked having 4A and 5A playing together,” he said about the traditional setup of the Southwestern Conference.

New conference alignments were determined Thursday at the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Football Committee meeting.

The five teams from the 2013 Southwestern Conference will play in five different conferences in three different classifications for the next two years.

In Class 5A, Grand Junction and Fruita Monument will move to Denver-area conferences. The Tigers will play in the South Metro Conference with Arapahoe, Gateway, Heritage, Hinkley, Rangeview and Smoky Hill.

Fruita Monument moves into the Continental North Conference with Rock Canyon, Highlands Ranch, Mountain Vista, ThunderRidge and Regis.

When Central successfully petitioned to play down to the Class 3A level, it was obvious a four-team Southwestern Conference didn’t make sense. In the past, the Southwestern Conference was a mix of 4A and 5A teams.

Owens said he likes the new alignment.

“For us, we’re excited for the opportunity to play in a true 5A conference,” he said. “It’s a way to validate our season, playing those schools in a 5A conference.”

It will be a tough challenge for the Tigers next season, with a nonconference schedule that includes Fairview, which lost the 5A title game to Valor Christian, Fruita Monument and Montrose.

“Still having Montrose and Fruita on the schedule means we will still have those traditional rivalry games,” Owens said.

Moving to a Front Range conference won’t have a huge impact on travel, since the Tigers are eliminating the trip to Durango and have had Front Range schools on their schedule in the past, Owens said.

Having the Western Slope schools in different conferences, Owens said, limits travel for the Front Range schools. The conference teams will only have to make the trip west every other year.

A call Thursday afternoon seeking comment from Fruita Monument coach Sean Mulvey wasn’t returned.

All conference alignments must be approved and finalized at the CHSAA legislative meeting in January.

Another plan seeking approval at that meeting is to use a committee of administrators to select the 32-team Class 5A playoff field instead of using the wild-card points formula.

At the Class 4A level, Montrose and Durango will move to two separate Colorado Springs-area conferences.

The Indians will join the six-team Foothills Conference with Falcon, Mesa Ridge, Sand Creek, Vista Ridge and Widefield.

Durango moves to the Pikes Peak Conference with defending 4A champ Pine Creek, Rampart, Palmer Ridge, Liberty and Air Academy.

Casebier said he’s still adjusting to the thought that the Southwestern Conference is gone.

“It’s hard to get your mind around not playing in the Southwestern (Conference) anymore. You just have to deal with it,” he said.

He said it will be good moving to a pure 4A conference but there’s still some frustration in playing 5A schools.

“It’s more ideal to play mostly 4A schools,” he said. “It would be very strange if we weren’t playing (Grand Junction and Fruita Monument), it’s just a way of life here.”

But, he added, there’s a reason there are different classifications based on enrollments, and it’s always a challenge to play larger schools.

After two winless seasons and a 5-35 record the past four years, Central will play in the Class 3A Western Slope Conference the next two years.

This season, Coronado, a Class 4A-sized school, won the Class 3A state title after petitioning to play down two years ago.

Both teams in the Class 3A title game, Coronado and Silver Creek, will play in Class 4A next fall.

The Class 3A Western Slope Conference will go from nine teams to eight for the next two years. Gone are Moffat County, Montezuma-Cortez and Battle Mountain, with Central and Summit joining the conference.

With Central playing down, it creates a large gap in enrollment numbers in the conference with Delta, which advanced to the 3A semifinals, at the low end at 626 to Central, with 1,452 students.

The 2A Western Slope Conference was eliminated and split into two conferences.

The Southwest Conference will have Olathe, Gunnison, Montezuma-Cortez, Bayfield, Pagosa Springs and Alamosa. The Northwest Conference will have Coal Ridge, Aspen, Basalt, Moffat County, Battle Mountain and Roaring Fork.

Battle Mountain did not meet the play-down criteria but the football committee allowed the Huskies to move down to 2A. They will not be eligible for the Class 2A playoffs, however. Montezuma-Cortez successfully petitioned to play down.

The 1A Western Slope Conference looks pretty much the same, with 2013 champion Paonia, 2012 champ Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, Lake County and Meeker, with Grand Valley joining the conference after a drop in enrollment.

Conference alignments and school classifications will be re-evaluated in the fall of 2016.


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