The NIAA Board of Control is expected to dissolve the pod system during its winter meeting Monday and Tuesday in Sparks, according to Assistant Director Donnie Nelson, while North Tahoe will request that its football program be granted independent status.The pods, or leagues, consist of three groups, the Mount Rose League, Lahontan League and Ruby Mountain League. The leagues house a combination of Northern Division I-A and DIII schools, the only such grouping in the state.Four years ago, due to economic hardships, the NIAA created the pods in hopes of reducing travel expenses. Costs, though, increased for some schools in the Lahontan League, such as Fallon and Fernley, while the discrepancy in enrollment between the D-IA and DIII schools created mismatches (the pods do not include football).Aiding the cause is the defection of White Pine (Ely) and West Wendover, members of the Ruby Mountain League, to the Southern DIII next year.According to DI-A President Mike Altenburg of Elko High School, athletic directors and administrations from both leagues are on board with the change. “I think it’s unanimous that all the schools approve,” Altenburg said. “I think it get convoluted when you mix two leagues (divisions) together. There are some competitive disadvantages as a result.”Those who approve of the change include Truckee Athletic Director Jaime Legare and North Tahoe Athletic Director John Neary, who also confirmed the Lakers’ intention to become independent in football.“We are staying in Division III, but I am on the NIAA Board of Control agenda to request that our football program be granted independent status so we can schedule our own games, hopefully to play JV level for the next two years to build up the program,” Neary said.The Lakers have struggled to fill out their football roster in recent years, as well as compete against the perennial powerhouses of the DIII.Also on the Board of Control’s agenda is an action item to address Whittell’s move from the DIII to the DIV in all sports starting next school year. Whittell, a current member of the Mount Rose League, has met the DIV criteria of fewer than 169 students for the past two years. The Warriors started this school year with 147 students.North Tahoe, by comparison, has 310 students, said Principal Joanna Mitchell.As for eliminating the pods, a big reason for the athletic director support was playoff seeding, which has lacked consistency throughout the four-year history of the pods. For example, this past fall, boys and girls soccer was rocked by an NIAA decision during the middle of the season to count all games that DI-A opponents had played against each other for playoff seeding.“It will make playoff scenarios more straightforward with playing all the Northern IA teams in league,” Legare said, adding that scheduling for non-varsity games also will become easier for the Wolverines, because many of the DIII schools within their pod do not have freshmen or JV programs. The only negative to scrapping the pods — for the majority of schools outside of the Lahontan League, anyway — is the increased travel cost, Legare said. Although the competition will be more balanced, Truckee, and their most distant league opponents such as Elko, Spring Creek and Lowry, will face more overnight hotel stays and long bus rides.Since Whittell is dropping a division next year, athletic director Kathy Bluethman doesn’t expect the elimination of pods to make a huge impact on travel expenses.“Even if we get rid of the pods, we’ll probably still be scheduling games against the same teams that are closer to us,” Bluethman said. “And even with the pods, I still scheduled far away games against Battle Mountain and Lovelock.”Actually, the Warriors are expecting to see a small drop in travel expenses as their division is now loaded with closer schools: Virginia City, Smith Valley, Coleville, Pyramid Lake, Sage Ridge and Sierra Lutheran.“All of the Division IV teams are excited,” Bluethman said. “They’ve been sending me schedules because they’re excited that we’re closer to them.”Whittell’s drop to Division IV is nothing new, but it is an action item on the Board of Control’s agenda Monday. Bluethman doesn’t expect any surprises.The NIAA Board of Control will meet at the Holiday Inn in Sparks at 10 a.m. on Monday and 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The meeting is open to the public.— Tahoe Daily Tribune sports editor Becky Regan contributed to this report.
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