Moving on up... to the West Slope

M-CHS football back in 3A league after two seasons playing at 2A

Athletic director, Jimmie Lankford, discusses the move up to the 3A Western Slope League for the Montezuma-Cortez High School football team. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Athletic director, Jimmie Lankford, discusses the move up to the 3A Western Slope League for the Montezuma-Cortez High School football team.

The Montezuma-Cortez High School football team totaled a record of five wins and 14 losses the last two years.

Apparently, the Panthers .36 winning percentage was too high to keep them in the 2A Mountain League after a two-year probationary cycle.

Now, M-CHS has moved up to its old home; the 3A Western Slope League. The move was determined by a football committee within the Colorado High School Activities Association.

“You want to play and have wins for your program, but you also want to be competitive and go to the playoffs,” said M-CHS Athletic Director Jimmie Lankford. “If you can drop down and get into a little more competitive situation, where you’re competing against teams where you have a chance to make playoffs, it makes a difference.”

Not only will the 3A league heavily increase in competition, but also financially. M-CHS’s travel budget has doubled this year.

“We have three major trips this year. Steamboat will be a big one,” Lankford said. “A football team in a hotel room is a pretty big expense. You’re talking about meals and the bus travel. Anytime you go to Steamboat, you’re looking at six or seven thousand dollars on that trip.”

Determining factors of competing in each classification is enrollment and win percentage. Last year, M-CHS had a total enrollment of 620 students. A school must have below 600 kids to have a 2A football team.

However, if the Panthers win percentage over two years was below 20 percent, they could have stayed in the 2A Mountain League. Prior to dropping down to 2A, M-CHS had a two-year percentage below 20 percent. CHSAA raised the two-year cycle win percentage to 25 percent. Obviously, M-CHS wants and plans to have a winning football program. But playing in a league with like-minded schools, such as Bayfield and Pagosa Springs, helped competitively and financially.

Lankford and the Bayfield High School principal spearheaded a plan to form a 2A/3A football league consisting of M-CHS, Bayfield, Pagosa Springs, Olathe and Delta. The league of football playing schools would have significantly reduced travel costs.

CHSAA did not approve the proposed football league formation. The committee cited a mixture of 2A and 3A schools would be too difficult for determining postseason berths for teams in each classification.

“Logistically, I’m not sure why it didn’t happen,” Lankford said. “We tried to give those schools some different alternatives, instead of making us run all the way up to Steamboat.”

So, the Panthers are back in their old home, once again on a two-year probation cycle. If M-CHS football wins less than 25 percent of its games the next two seasons, the school will move back down to 2A.

“You win three games over two years, you’re starting to lose your program,” Lankford said. “At (winning below) 25 percent (over two years), you can schedule some games and have some success. But not feel like you’re just giving yourself no chance at moving down if you really need to, to rebuild a program.”

A way of reducing travel expenses is the WSL scheduling. It sets up to have more road games one year and then more home games the next. M-CHS has four games at Panther Stadium this season, but will have six next year. Major road trips to Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Gypsum are every two years, instead of each season.

M-CHS’s other sports compete at the 4A level against mostly larger schools.

But for a historically struggling football program, sometimes bigger isn’t always better.

Official practices begin Monday.