Century, Pocatello and Preston high schools will form a three-team conference for all sports and activities for the 2020-22 classification cycle.
The three District 5 schools were voted out of the Twin Falls-based Great Basin Ten conference, which includes seven District 4 squads. The seven District 4 schools voted 4-3 to reform their conference without the three District 5 schools. Pocatello, Preston and Century were not asked to participate in the vote, according to Century Athletic Director Steve Anderson.
Anderson said representatives from Century, Pocatello and Preston also spoke to 4A District 6 teams about forming a conference, but said those schools’ priority “was to keep the High Country Conference allegiances intact.” The High Country Conference consists of 4A and 5A teams in District 6, and the league’s bylaws state that those teams must schedule games against all other HCC teams, or else incur a fine. Adding three teams to the 4A District 6 conference would eliminate some opportunities for HCC members to schedule nonconference games against other HCC teams.
Century, Pocatello and Preston last shared a three-team conference in 2011. They joined District 6 schools to form the 4A District 5-6 conference from 2012-17. But multiple District 6 schools switched classifications for the current cycle, either from 3A to 4A or 5A to 4A, giving District 6 enough 4A schools to form its own six-team conference. The District 4 conference then added Pocatello, Century and Preston to create the 10-team 4A District 4-5 conference.
Anderson said the main downsides to belonging to a three-team conference are scheduling difficulties and representation at state tournaments. The three-team league will likely only get one automatic state tournament bid in every team sport.
State tournament bids will also be reduced for individual sports like cross country, swimming, wrestling, tennis and track. Preston doesn’t field teams in swimming or tennis, further capping state tournament bids for Pocatello and Century in those sports.
Anderson said the schools that voted to oust Pocatello, Preston and Century — Mountain Home, Jerome, Wood River and Minico — mostly cited travel expenses and missed class time as their rationales for reducing the league’s footprint.
“Those were all issues that had been addressed two years ago (when we formed the conference) and I thought we had a good handle on it,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he was surprised by Minico’s no vote. Minico High, located in Rupert, is closer to Pocatello and Preston than any other District 4 school.
“We’ve always had a longstanding relationship with Minico, them giving us games and us giving them games,” Anderson said.
Anderson also said Mountain Home “pretty much made it plainly clear” that it would withdraw from the conference and join the Boise-based Southern Idaho Conference if Pocatello, Preston and Century were allowed to stay in the Great Basin Ten. Mountain Home is located 192 miles west of Pocatello and 263 miles northwest of Preston, farther than any other District 4 school.
In regards to scheduling, the three District 5 schools — especially Pocatello and Century — must now shuffle their plans.
The seven remaining Great Basin teams will mostly fill their schedules with games against one another, and 4A and 5A schools belonging to the Bingham-and-Bonneville County-based High Country Conference are obligated to prioritize scheduling nonconference games against each other, per conference bylaws. That leaves Highland as the only 4A or 5A school in east Idaho with significant nonconference openings on its schedule.
Anderson said he’ll likely have to try to schedule games with schools in Utah and Wyoming going forward. Preston, located a few miles from the Utah state line, already schedules Utah schools for nonconference games.
Anderson did say he anticipates that the High Country Conference schools will be willing to work with District 5 schools to fill their schedules in the near future.
As of right now, though, Anderson has only been able to schedule 2020 football games against Pocatello, Preston and Highland.
“Building a schedule so that you have meaningful games at the end of the season is really hard,” said Anderson, who was Century’s athletic director the last time the school was in a three-team conference. “We’re looking at the possibility of trying to find nonconference games when everyone’s into their conference schedule.”
Anderson also noted that the 2022-24 classification cycle may open the door to Preston, Century and Pocatello to reform a conference with 4A District 6 schools, as he anticipates current 4A schools Hillcrest and Skyline to increase their enrollment numbers beyond the Idaho High School Activities Association’s 4A threshold, while 4A Shelley may be able to petition back down to 3A. Current 4A member Idaho Falls recently petitioned to remain in 4A despite its 5A enrollment figures, but was denied, and will compete as a 5A school in the next classification cycle.