Rifle football could drop down to 2A, join Western Slope League with Aspen, Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Rifle football could drop down to 2A, join Western Slope League with Aspen, Basalt

Joshua Carney/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Rifle head football coach Damon Wells speaks to players after the playoff game against the Palmer Ridge Bears on Nov. 18 at Rifle High School.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The Colorado High School Activities Association’s football committee will hold an official meeting Thursday night to vote on a number of new classifications across the state. Among them: the Rifle High School football program dropping down to 2A for the 2018-19 scheduling cycle.

Under the proposed classification changes, Rifle would go from being one of the smallest schools in 3A, in terms of enrollment, to one of the largest schools in 2A. Currently, 2A classification means the school has between 348 and 787 students enrolled. In CHSAA’s latest enrollment projections for football classification, Rifle comes in as the fifth-largest school in 2A, with a projected 759 students.

Since the 2012-13 scheduling cycle, Rifle has consistently been one of the three smallest schools in 3A. That hasn’t stopped Rifle from being successful overall, going 62-8 in that span under head coach Damon Wells, and reaching the state championship in 2014. The move down will likely balance the playing surface when it comes to the state playoffs, said Rifle Athletic Director Troy Phillips. But it’s important to note that this possible move down isn’t a move that Rifle requested; it’s simply based on the enrollment numbers, according to CHSAA.

“We’ll play wherever our enrollments fits us,” Wells said. “We’re not looking to play up or play down or anything like that. We were the third-smallest 3A school in the past two-year cycle. In 2012-13, we were 11 kids away from moving down to 2A. We were incredibly close again in the last cycle process. We’ve always been right on the edge, but I don’t think if we play 2A football we’re all of a sudden going to win a ton of games. [2A school] Delta is a tough team. They played Palisade tough this year, and look where Palisade ended up this season.”

The proposed move to 2A could ultimately slide Rifle into the 2A Western Slope League in place of the Roaring Fork Rams, who have dropped varsity football for the scheduling cycle. The Delta Panthers are expected to take the place of the Steamboat Springs Sailors, who would move up to 3A under the proposed classifications.

The moves for Rifle and Delta would put them into the same division as recent 2A WSL powerhouse Basalt and up-and-coming Coal Ridge, making the 2A WSL a tough division to compete in. Aspen and Moffat County were also in the 2A WSL the past two seasons.

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Some may call Rifle’s proposed move unfair, considering the overwhelming amount of success the Bears have had in 3A. But when you’re not on an even playing field in terms of depth and kids available to the coaching staff, it makes a major difference late in the season, when injuries pile up prior to the playoffs.

“We’d prefer to be in 2A,” Phillips said. “In the last 22 years, we’ve had a two-year span where we were one of the largest schools in the classification. Being in 2A, it gives you at least a chance in the playoffs if we’re on a level playing surface in terms of enrollment.”

In reviewing the league classification proposals, the football committee has continued to use three main factors to guide its decision-making: risk-minimization, geography and traditional league, and competitive balance.

The committee will meet in Denver Thursday evening to vote on the reclassification proposals.

jcarney@postindependent.com