By David Bashore

Herald sports reporter

Madras High School has withdrawn its football team from the Intermountain Conference schedule for the fall 2007 season.

Madras athletic director Margaret Sturza confirmed the move Wednesday, citing insufficient numbers to compete at the 5A classification and the IMC levels.

The move, formally announced to IMC athletic directors on Nov. 2 — a day before the White Buffalos' final game of the season, a 59-0 thumping of Crook County — will see Madras play an independent football schedule for the next two seasons.

All other White Buffalo teams will play an IMC schedule in the interim.

"This decision was made in the best interest of our student athletes and our football program," Sturza said in the letter. "This was not something we wanted to do. We feel it was something we had to do."

Madras began the season with 48 players out for football of any level,and at the end of the season was suiting 25 players for both junior varsity and varsity, though many of the 11 freshmen and sophomores on the varsity squad also played junior varsity.

In the end, Madras' withdrawal appears to be simply due to the numbers game, though an independent schedule will allow perhaps athletes to enjoy more on-field success in addition to keeping more players healthy while trying to replenish numbers from one of the smallest student bodies in the 5A classification.

"Football is a unique sport in that it requires a large number of athletes," Sturza said. "Our hope is that in two years' time, we can increase our numbers in football and return to the IMC."

Madras' withdrawal will eliminate a conference game date for each team, allowing for another quality non-conference opponent to be played on the schedule in preparation for the IMC season.

To do so, however, will take some work because the games for next season were already in the process of being scheduled when Madras withdrew, according to Kay.

Faced with the prospects of another non-league encounter, the Bulldogs have turned to some schools from Washington and Idaho in the search to identify a possible replacement for the newly opened date.

"It leaves a gap in our schedule because they were already scheduling games when they made the announcement," Kay said. "We're in negotiations with some out-of-state schools (to fill the date)."

Not only will the move open a date on each IMC team's schedule, but the withdrawal of Madras directly impacts the conference's playoff allocation.

By being the co-largest conference in the 5A classification, the IMC got four playoff spots this season.

Beginning next year, they will have to go on a rotational basis, meaning some years they will have four, some they will have three.

"You look at this season, and one of those teams in a four-way tie for the lead going into the last week wouldn't have made the playoffs," Kay said.

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