For 23 years football in the Greater Spokane League was a lot like the city it was named for: solid, stable and pretty predictable.
The same schools. The same teams atop the standings.
No, this isn’t the 20th century GSL. Once again, Spokane’s big school football league is undergoing a transformation.
Out is the division alignment used the past two seasons. In are two more 3A schools, though “in” isn’t exactly right, considering North Central has been playing the sport since William Howard Taft was president and East Valley joined the league in 1999.
But, as has been the case since Mt. Spokane started playing GSL football in 1998, the league is undergoing its near-annual tweaking.
This year the 14 GSL schools will play a schedule based on divisions, but without divisional standings. At the end, the standings will be determined by overall record, with the top four 4A schools (there are nine total) headed to the Tuesday night playoff play-in games with the Big Nine Conference and the top two 3A schools headed to the 3A playoffs with the Mid-Valley League.
Like everything else in the world of the GSL, there’s muffled disagreement over the change.
“The advent of the 3A schools (in 2002) added a new dimension,” said Mt. Spokane coach Mike McLaughlin, who has been around the league as a player or a coach since before it was the GSL. “What I liked about the divisional play was that for the first time since I’ve been here, we had a traditional championship game at the end of the year. And we were fortunate enough to play in that (winning the 2002 game). It was a new experience and it was fun.”
Not only was it fun, it also led, McLaughlin believes to some postseason success.
“The last two years of divisional play, the winner of that game won the first round game against the Big Nine,” he said. “Our best team was playing. At the end of the season, sometimes your best team is not the team with the best record.
“Because of that, I was against getting away from divisional play. I thought it gave us an advantage and I thought it involved more teams.”
The new system could be better and a more reliable way to go, at least in the mind of Adam Fisher, East Valley’s head coach.
“Each week is a battle and a test,” he said. “(Playoff spots are determined by) overall record, which I like because you just can’t just play well against 3As or against 4As, because that wouldn’t be fair to other teams.
“I like the format, I think it’s going to be beneficial to both sides, 4A and 3A, and it’s fair.”
The four-of-nine scenario for the 4A schools actually moves the GSL back to a setup in use from 1996 to 1998, when the league had nine schools and four moved on to play the Big Nine. But then the 3A schools were not involved.
“There are some teams playing five 4A teams, and some that aren’t,” McLaughlin said. “It’s kind of the luck of the draw because you never know how it will play out. There is some inequity in that. I don’t know what the answer is. I thought divisional play was the best way to go, and now we’re back to 14 teams, so we’ll just have to go through it and see.”
The wait-and-see attitude is echoed by Fisher.
“Obviously it’s a work in progress,” he said. “When it is all said and done, no matter who you talk to, at the end of the season, after the nine league games, the best will have a chance to go on. And the teams who should stay at home will stay at home and the teams who should travel will travel.”
One area everyone can agree on is the GSL will have its share of excellent players.
The stars include last year’s Offensive Player of the Year (Shadle Park’s quarterback Josh Powell), the first team quarterback (Clarkston’s Jason Curtis), a record-breaking runningback (Mead junior Skylar Jessen), the best punter (Shadle’s Andy Largent) and two highly coveted linemen (Mead’s Jesse Wilhelm and Lewis and Clark’s Josh Shaw).
And those are only the first-team All-GSL returnees. There are seven other players returning who were honored last season on each division’s first team.
Coming Thursday on the Prep Page: Vince Grippi looks at the other big change ahead this football season: How the 4A playoffs will be handled.
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