Soccer was approved a midseason facelift at the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association's Board of Control meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Sparks.
The Northern Division I-A teams (formerly 3A) were broken into their respective "pods" this season, which has caused numerous scheduling and travel issues. Due to the magnified issues, the Board of Control approved a Division III/IV (formerly 2A/1A) regional and state tournament for boys and girls by a 7-2 vote for this season, according to NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson.
For years, DI-A and DIII/IV schools shared one division in soccer as DIII/IV programs battled their larger counterparts for postseason appearances. Prior to this season, the Northern league was divided between the Sierra and Humboldt leagues.
The state tournaments will be comprised of three schools from the North and one from the South, Nelson said. In addition, playoff qualification will be based on a point system, which includes points accumulated for wins against league opponents and teams competing in a higher division.
Currently, the NIAA is searching for a suitable location to host the DIII/IV regional tournament. Four of the nine northern schools in the DIII/IV will qualify for the playoffs.
One school voting against the proposal was Incline. The Highlanders are currently in second place in the Mount Rose league, and Incline coach Tom Canino said the school would rather compete against better competition.
"I voted against the move because we want to compete where we are," said Canino, who serves as Incline's co-athletic director and boys and girls soccer coach. "From experience we know that a title is more meaningful when it includes a Truckee, Sparks, South Tahoe, etc."
Nelson said he thinks The Meadows from the South was the other school that voted against having a separate regional and state tournament for the small schools, but he was not certain. North Tahoe, which was in transition between athletic directors this past summer, did not attend the August meeting and thus did not cast a vote.
North Tahoe's coaches had mixed feelings about the change, as the Lakers historically are one of the more successful soccer programs in the state.
North Tahoe's boys have won six state championships in the former 3A (current Division I-A), which ranks second only to Truckee, while the Laker girls have won five state championships, also second to Truckee. Neither North Tahoe squad has not made a state finals appearance for several years, however, in part due to a consistently shrinking enrollment.
"I personally wanted it to stay the way it was," said longtime North Tahoe boys coach Beto Alcaraz. "I know a lot of schools have dropped off in enrollment, including North Tahoe and Truckee, but I like the competition. I'd like to stay in the higher division, but realistically, maybe it's best for the athletes. But I just think you get better by playing the better teams. So it's hard for me to say one way or another."
Jon Rockwood, head coach of the Laker girls, said he welcomes the opportunity to play schools with similar enrollment, although he understands the drawbacks as well.
"As a coach, it's pretty frustrating to play schools that are three times your size. The larger schools just have such an upper hand because their talent pool is deeper," he said. "So maybe it will be good for the girls to have a more level playing field. So I'm not opposed to it. I'm willing to give it a shot.
"But I definitely see the shortcomings of it. It devalues our league a little bit. But while nobody ever wants to drop down, you do want to keep the playing field even."
Schools moving down include North Tahoe, Incline, Whittell, Yerington, Rite of Passage, Pershing County (girls only), Battle Mountain, White Pine and West Wendover. In the South, the only DIII/IV schools with soccer programs are DIV Adelson (boys and girls) and DIII The Meadows (boys only).
But while the number of DIII and DIV schools seems plenty sufficient to hold their own regional and state tournament, Alcaraz and Canino are concerned about the level of competition outside of the Mount Rose League. Traditionally, the Lake Tahoe schools, particularly the small schools, are significantly better than their eastern and southern Nevada counterparts.
For example, in a Division III/IV crossover tournament against the Ruby Mountain League earlier this season, the North Tahoe boys and girls outscored their three opponents by a collective margin of 57-1. Incline and Whittell also routed the same opponents.
"We feel like it would not be that difficult to come up with a relegation system and playoff format that could include everyone, the bigger schools as well as the small ones if they are up to the competition level," Canino said. "Teams that can compete should be encouraged to. We should be making the pool bigger, not smaller."
Nelson said the NIAA will reconsider the D-IA and DIII/DV soccer playoff formats after the season.