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'To claim safety in order to justify cutting part of the tournament is total hogwash'

The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) is supposed to do what is in the best interest of student athletes.

Last year they failed to do that, shortening all high school sports seasons as well as canceling all playoffs.

Wrestling proved that there was no need to cancel championships, holding an unofficial championship in each classification. At levels below Class 5A, other sports held unofficial championships as well. Nothing bad happened. No one got sick. No one died. Teams got to play. But the big schools in every sport but wrestling deprived their students of the opportunity. And, even in those sports that did play, the tournaments are unofficial. The champions will not be recognized formally.

This year, they are failing athletes again. Recently the OSAA Executive Board voted to curtail the state volleyball tournaments. Instead of eight teams from each classification reaching the state tournament, the quarterfinals will be hosted by the higher seeded teams, with only four teams from each classification advancing to the state tournament. The problems with that format are too numerous to mention, but one of the biggest problems is that it means that teams which fall in the quarterfinals have no opportunity to play through the consolation bracket and fight for a fourth-place trophy, something that Crook County has gotten in three of the last four seasons that the state championships have been contested.

The stated reason for the change is for COVID safety. The problem is that reason fails to hold water.

This past Saturday, 24 teams from around the state traveled to Bend for the Clearwater Classic Volleyball Tournament. There were no limitations on spectators in any of the venues, and at Bend Senior High School, there were two matches going on all morning on adjacent courts. And, the Clearwater Classic is not unique. There have been tournaments throughout the state all season.

Had the state tournament been left as originally scheduled, there would have been 16 teams at each site, as two classifications are scheduled to play at each host site.

So, the obvious question is if it is OK to have 24 teams in Bend for one tournament, how is it unsafe to have 16 at Liberty High School for the Class 5A and 6A championships, or at Corvallis for the 3A and 4A tournament, or at Ridgeview for the 2A and 1A, especially since each of those schools has three courts side by side, so if two matches are going on at the same time, there would have been 30 feet between courts. Teams could easily have been brought in different entrances, so they did not have contact with each other. However, it is even more absurd because even if you buy the safety concerns, there were other choices that could have still accommodated eight team tournaments.

One simple choice would have been to separate the tournaments into six different sites instead of stacking two classifications at each site. The reason that was rejected is because the OSAA does not have enough staff to cover six different sites. Well, that's all well and good, but they will have no coverage at the quarterfinals as the tournament is currently configured. What's the difference? Besides, even if you accept the explanation, there were workarounds that were viable. For example, instead of hosting the Class 5 and 6 A tournaments both at Liberty High School, they could have put the 5A at Glencoe on Friday and the 6A at Liberty. Then, on Saturday all the winners from Friday could have moved to Liberty for the championship rounds while the consolation brackets were held at Glencoe. That would have prevented ever having more than two teams on the court at the same time, allowed for a consolation final, and still had coverage at the championships.

Another viable alternative would have been to hold the 5A championship on Friday and the 6A tournament on Saturday. That would not have been a problem. There were two fair ways to accomplish that. The first would have been to put all eight Class 5A schools into two pools and played pool play in the morning. Then in the afternoon play bracket play. If that isn't acceptable, then run the tournament on one day in the normal state tournament format. Is that a lot of volleyball for one day? Yes, it is, but it is no more sets than what happens now with teams that reach the finals of a big tournament. For example, at Clearwater, each team played six sets in pool play. Then, playing best two out of three sets in bracket play, a team that reached the championship could play as many as nine sets in bracket play for a total of 15 sets. Well, it just so happens that playing best three out of five as the state tournament is formatted with the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals all played on one day, the maximum number of sets that any team could possibly play is 15, the same as in any regular season tournament.

In other words, all of the excuses why they can't hold a regular volleyball tournament do not hold water.

And, those aren't the only options available. They could also have held the quarterfinals at host sites, then brought the consolation bracket to Liberty High School on Friday and the championship bracket to the school on Saturday. That would have left no more schools at the site on either day than they will have now.

On top of that, the OSAA was already limiting attendance to 100 people from each school, while Clearwater and a number of other tournaments held around the state this year had no attendance limitation. There were well over 400 people in attendance at Clearwater, the maximum that would have been allowable at any one site had the OSAA left the state tournament in its original format.

In other words, to claim safety in order to justify cutting part of the tournament is total hogwash. The OSAA Executive Board ought to be ashamed of themselves. It is time that the board has the courage to stand up to the Oregon Health Authority and the governor and finally do what is best for the kids. Because, to put it simply, if it is safe to have a 24-team tournament in the regular season, then it is safe to have a 16-team tournament in the post season. To say anything else is irrational and unfair to the kids.

It's not too late to put things back as they should be, but that isn't going to happen, because too many members of the OSAA Executive Board are gutless and are more concerned with politics than what is best for the kids. Anyone who voted for the change does not deserve to be on the board because they are putting convenience and politics ahead of the kids, who deserve better.

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