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NMAA considers conference format

Often, these things tend not to yield much in the way of headlines.

But the next New Mexico Activities Association board of directors meeting has the potential to be one of the most talked-about in the organization’s history.

On Thursday morning, the NMAA’s board will convene in Albuquerque, with a handful of action-line items set to be voted upon.

Chief among them is whether the state ditches the familiarity of its district model and adopts a newer — and, in theory, a more travel-friendly, more budget-friendly and more athlete-friendly — conference model.

This radical change, should it come to pass, has been under the microscope since September 2015, when the NMAA cobbled together a committee of athletic directors (public and private, representing all classes), plus what executive director Sally Marquez described as some private and public representatives.

“We have researched other associations, and what’s best for New Mexico,” Marquez said.

While Marquez declined to supply the Journal with the actual list of conference breakdowns by school and by class, she did say that there would be 21 conferences if that is the direction the board wants to go.

By contrast, in basketball, there are 31 districts, although that’s at the high end of the scale since it’s a high-participation sport.

The board has asked the NMAA staff to present the district and conference options Thursday.

The conference model differs from districts in this important way: Schools from different classifications would be represented in the same conference. The southeast region is the most commonly used example, where large schools like Clovis, Carlsbad and Hobbs would be in a conference with the likes of Roswell, Goddard, Artesia and Lovington.

At the other end, the northwest region has only one large-division school, Piedra Vista, which is isolated from the rest of the 6A schools and linked geographically with a group of smaller schools in the Four Corners and down into the Gallup area.

“The reason for the conference model,” Marquez said, “is to make sure schools are playing each other in their area, with like-sized schools.”

There are a large handful of schools in New Mexico that suffer in a district format economically and in terms of travel/student class time. Hobbs is perhaps the most glaring example. Travel expenses for the Eagles — and for Carlsbad, too — have shot through the roof since joining the Las Cruces-heavy District 3-6A before the 2016-17 school year.

But, as Marquez points out, there will always be examples of schools that travel more than most.

“What we’re trying to do,” she said, “is make sure that kids are in the classroom and that we’re helping the school. We’re trying to minimize the travel as much as we can, and help the districts with cost.”

The district vs. conference vote is far from the NMAA’s only business. Here are the other topics:

ENROLLMENT BOUNDARIES: The board must decide where to draw the enrollment lines when the state moves back to five classes in August of next year.

Also, it is likely football will not look the same as other sports, with a higher cutoff. Some schools that will be 5A-level in sports such as soccer, basketball and baseball will be 4A in football. West Mesa, Rio Grande and Santa Fe are schools that could be playing one class lower, Marquez said, although the Demons are going independent for 2017.

Until the NMAA gets the 40-day student counts from the 2017-18 school year, and that won’t be until October, the NMAA can’t align the schools.

GAME LIMITATIONS/STATE QUALIFIERS: The NMAA may vote to set a ceiling for schools as to the maximum number of games allowed in the regular season. There are, Marquez noted, many more schools currently playing far fewer games than the maximum permitted in the regular season.

Whether a district model or conference model is used going forward, Marquez said the NMAA needs to also examine the number of schools qualifying for state.

Soccer, volleyball and softball have 12-team playoff brackets. Basketball and baseball largely remain at 16.

DISTRICT TOURNAMENTS: It is possible the board may vote to eliminate district tournaments in volleyball and basketball, which are the only two sports that have them.

CALENDAR: The overlap between fall and winter sports, and especially the winter and spring sports, has been on the NMAA’s mind for a long while. Efforts continue to try to find separation.