Monday, June 13, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Desert Pines High football coach Paul Bennett could feel slighted.
Despite leading his team to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons and sending an athlete to Division I football each of the past four years, the always-athletic Jaguars appear headed to a lower tier of competition.
A proposed realignment plan for the current 34-team 4A large-school classification in Southern Nevada will break it into two divisions based on a system that awarded schools points the past two years for how high they finished in league play and advanced in the playoffs in certain sports.
The plan, which is expected to be approved during an October vote and would be implemented in the fall of 2012, was partially designed to create a competitive balance. Instead of Bishop Gorman dominating schools such as Clark and Western in every sport — which takes away the fun for either side — those schools would be separated.
Additionally, the plan would help ease the cost of traveling to neighboring towns (Boulder City, Pahrump, Overton and Mesquite) and take the three-team 3A Southern League and combine it with the lower 4A classification division.
But you won’t hear Bennett complain. Sure, the veteran coach wants his team to play at the highest level, proving countless times over the years it belongs among the state’s best. In 2002, for instance, Desert Pines won the Sunrise Region before losing in the state championship game.
But the realignment is about more than football. It’s about all of a school’s athletic programs. And at Desert Pines, those programs struggle — they’d struggle against the likes of Boulder City, too.
“It’s all sports, man,” Bennett said. “It makes sense. It really does. It can’t always be about football. This is going to allow all sports at Desert Pines a chance to compete.”
Desert Pines is proposed to be in the Southern Class 4A Division II, competing against Chaparral, Sunrise Mountain, Tech (which doesn’t field a football team) and the three 3A schools in the East league. Chaparral and second-year Sunrise Mountain combined to win one football game last fall — when Chap beat Sunrise Mountain — and in most years Desert Pines would have no troubles against a less-athletic 3A school.
The formula would be recalculated after two years and allow for schools dominating the Division II, or having troubles in the Division I, to change divisions.
Bennett knows a two-year hiatus could do more than help the athletic department develop. “Once we start winning, the whole school will buy into it,” he said. “It will be great for morale.”
Desert Pines isn’t the lone school with a more-than-respectable football program pegged for relegation. Cheyenne High School, which is widely regarded as one of the state’s top 15 football programs, is also considered for Division II because its other teams struggle.
It is easy to assume Cheyenne and Desert Pines could be playing for the state title. And, because of that chance to win, both teams are finding light at the end of the tunnel with the proposal.
Gorman has won three of the past four state championships, and with young players at several positions, is primed to become a dynasty. Now, there is another title available.
“Forty years down the road, nobody is going to ask how you got that banner,” Cheyenne coach David Cochran said. “They aren’t going to check what league you were in or who you played.”
The average enrollment at a 3A school is 600 students. Desert Pines has 2,300. That’s where coaches and administrators in the 3A have a problem with the proposal.
In track, for instance, schools currently in the 4A would win meets and titles on the simple fact they have more bodies for the various events.
“We like the opportunity to compete at a higher level, obviously,” said Moapa Valley football coach Brent Lewis, whose Pirates are typically one of the top 3A teams. “I’ve played Cheyenne in the past and they were just loaded with athletes in football, basketball and track. Talent changes from one year to the next. But the one variable that doesn’t is enrollment.”
The 3A, which lost Faith Lutheran and Pahrump Valley to the 4A a few years back, desperately needed a makeover. With only three teams, the football season consisted of two leagues games and plenty of drives to small towns in Arizona and Utah for contests to fill out the schedule.
That creates a double-edge sword scenario. The 3A needs more teams to survive, but some of the teams it is set to receive clearly don’t belong. The Southern Class 4A Division II West league is proposed to be Faith Lutheran, Pahrump, Western, Cheyenne, Clark and Mojave.
Some feel the committee should have done a separate realignment for each sport — especially in football.
“The one thing I was concerned about is I don’t think the committee really went out and talked to the coaches, especially from the 3A,” Lewis said. “To complete our league, we need four or five teams. We have no voice on the board. They will not listen to any of our common-sense suggestions.
“I have mixed feelings. We are in a tough spot,” he continued. “We can’t say we need teams, then complain when getting them.”
Ultimately, the coaches know the decision is out of their hands. Regardless of the opponent, they will continue preparing their teams for Friday nights.
“I want the best for Cheyenne High School. Not just the Cheyenne High School football team,” Cochran said. “I’m OK with it. You have to play the hand you are dealt.”