If only Robert Cutts were a salesman and not a football coach.
The Eldorado High coach repeatedly pleaded with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association realignment committee on Thursday to be part of the reconstructed class 3A for football, saying his program was bruised and beaten from playing in the large-school classification and desperately needed a chance to build itself against equal competition.
His pitch fell on deaf ears.
Eldorado would be aligned to the new class 4A, a slight improvement but still not where Sundevils officials say they belong. The realignment group’s recommendations will be forwarded to the NIAA’s Board of Control for approval in January, including the new class 5A for high-enrollment and high-achieving programs.
“We are talking about keeping Chaparral and Sunrise Mountain in 3A. I lost to both those teams this year. I lost to Sunrise Mountain by 40 points,” Cutts told the committee.
There were five teams up for discussion for three spots in the 3A for football, and Eldorado’s résumé appeared to be solid: Its enrollment is about 2,000, it lost to 3A teams in recent seasons, including once by the mercy rule of a running clock, and participation numbers have lagged.
More important, they have taken their lumps the past four years in the top class as a victim of a not-so-popular rubric that awards points to a school for its place in the standings, with those points used to classify teams. Eldorado won a soccer state championship to gather enough points to stay in the top class, meaning its other programs typically finished last in the Northeast League in most sports and missed the playoffs. Football is separate in the realignment.
“There was a horrible mistake two years ago in designing leagues,” said Bart Thompson, the NIAA executive director. “We tried to tell people it was a problem, and it was a horrible problem ... We, in all honesty, are a little stuck with what we have.”
Eldorado went 2-8 last season and was outscored 339-139. But Rancho, one of the teams it beat, has been even worse and was classified to the 3A.
Rancho has only been competitive a handful of seasons over the past 20 years. It suffered a 30-game losing streak and played an independent schedule for two years in an attempt to regain its footing. That hasn’t worked, but the Rams should be able to find competitive games starting in 2018 when the realignment begins.
That’s what Cutts was hoping for his program.
“When I first came in, we really focused on culture, team and brotherhood,” Cutts said. “I think we accomplished that by leaps and bounds. ... Kids are eligible and not getting in trouble. But it hasn’t translated on the field, yet. We are finally getting established coaches and systems. A move to 3A would have solidified that for good.”
That left two spots for Chaparral, Eldorado, Valley and Mojave. Chaparral and Mojave, two teams already in the 3A and thriving, were selected to stay in the 3A in a decision that shocked Cutts.
Mojave went from one win in 2016 to double-digit victories and an appearance in the state championship game this season. Chaparral reached the state semifinals in 2015 and 2016. Their success shows you can develop at the lower level, which is why Cutts was perplexed that those teams wouldn’t be promoted to the 4A to give Eldorado and Valley the chance to remake their programs. Valley didn’t win a game in 2014 or 2015, when it was outscored 471-70.
“My kids mean everything to me,” Cutts said. “To tell them every year, ‘You are the group. This is the group that is going to (have a winning season)’ and then have the system continue to screw us over, that is tough.”
Most schools that had representation at the meeting were arguing to play down a class, which would give them not only a chance to develop the program but to have a memorable season.
But three schools — Faith Lutheran, Coronado and Centennial — volunteered for the 5A. Faith Lutheran petitioned the board to play in the class 5A for all sports, even though it was protected from the move because it has only been part of the large-school classification the past two years. But the Crusaders dominated on the lower level and anticipates a spike in enrollment.
Centennial and Coronado, pegged for the 4A for football, also are up to the challenge in 5A football. That drew applause from the packed room of athletic officials, who were becoming fatigued toward the end of the nearly six-hour meeting.
“Because you field a team doesn’t mean you have the right to compete for a state championship,” Coronado Principal Michael Piccininni said. “You can’t build a system to give every school in every sport a chance to compete for a state championship.”
While there has been much debate since the committee adjourned Thursday, the results aren’t official. They still have to be approved by the board. That means there’s hope, albeit slim, for Eldorado. Like four years ago, they’ll likely be slighted.
“The board was afraid to ruffle some feathers to keep us and Valley in the position we are in,” Cutts said.