Schools from along the high desert have joined the Central Section this year, schools along the coast make the move in 2018
By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN
PORTERVILLE – The borders of the Central Section will be drastically expanding over the next two years with the addition of 19 new schools, all from the Southern Section.
Joining the section this year was the Hi-Lo League consisting of Baker, Big Pine, Immanuel Christian/Ridgecrest, Owens Valley, Lee Vining, and Trona. All small schools, they will join the D-V ranks for the sports in which they participate. Baker High School looks to have just boys and girls basketball, and will primarily be competing against schools from the nearby High Desert League on the east side of the section. In the playoffs, the schools of the Hi-Lo League have agreed to a permanent travel agreement, if they decide to compete.
The big move, however, will not happen until fall when 13 high schools along the coast, including Paso Robles, Morro Bay, and Nipomo, will join. These schools will also come over as already established leagues and most will be used to fill the D-I and D-II playoff brackets. These schools will be able to host playoff games during their first year in the league.
Like in many instances up and down the CIF, the change was a matter of proximity to their competition. Jeff Brandow, athletic director for San Luis Obispo High School, says that it meant that his teams had to travel seven to eight hours to Los Angeles to play a game.
“Travel was the main factor,” said Brandow. “These are high school kids, not professional athletes, and we’re driving 500 miles in a week to compete.”
That type of traveling totaled a lot of funds for the San Luis Obispo athletic department, and their athletes missed a lot of class time.
Matters got worse when it came to the playoffs, another factor in the move, when a special rule known only to the Southern Section came into effect.
In the Southern Section, teams with the high playoff seed only get a guaranteed first round home game. Then, the school with the fewest home games in the regular season gets home field, regardless of seeding. If both schools had the same amount of home games during the season, then there is a coin flip to determine who the home team is for playoffs. What complicated the situation even more was that the coin flip results were not released until 9 a.m. on the morning after the last playoff round, causing the high school that lost to rush to schedule transportation. Officials for the Southern Section says that this rule was designed to make sure that each school would have an equal opportunity for their community/student body to experience the privilege of hosting a playoff contest.
“It always seemed like we’d lose on every coin flip,” said Brandow.
In 2015, the Tigers volleyball team entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed.
After hosting the first round, they were forced to travel down to Los Angeles for their next four games before, eventually, being eliminated.
The coin flip and travel time played such big roles that San Luis Obispo and the other schools had to completely change the way their teams traveled. Instead of leaving on a charter bus at 6 a.m. for a day of games, costing the school $2,500 per trip, they would send the smaller teams (basketball, tennis) in vans the night before to stay in a hotel closer to the competition site.
Still, both San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande high schools’ playoff budgets for all sports last year was $40,000.
By switching sections, travel time has been reduced to a max of three hours to get to most competitive sites and the need to send teams the night before to stay in hotels for section playoffs has been eliminated. This also created a purer playoff bracket, with seeding having more impact, and fewer coin flips deciding who is home.
“We view ourselves more like the Central Section than the Southern Section, anyway,” said Brandow.
The Central Section has a long history of playing teams from this area. Redwood High School played Atascadero in 2008 and 2009. Both Lindsay and Farmersville High Schools boys basketball teams traveled to the Morro Bay Tournament last season.
It is that relationship that has the schools of the Central Section rolling out the welcome mat for their newest members. John DeLong, athletic director at Golden West High School, is excited to see what the future holds for the expanded section.
“It is going to be more competitive,” said DeLong.
With many of the Trailblazer teams in the middle divisions, there is a chance that they will meet a couple of the coast teams in the playoffs. Regardless, they will continue to fill their non-league schedules with coast teams and has already scheduled Nipomo for the 2018 and 2019 football seasons.
But with the borders expanding, there is concern when it comes to league realignment. Golden West is confident that being a member of an established league with all of its members being in close proximity, limiting the possibility of being realigned with a coast school.
However, that confidence is not shared by all schools. Strathmore’s head football coach Jeromy Blackwell is afraid that Templeton, one of the coast schools making the switch, will be put in their league like they were up until 2005.
“I don’t necessarily want those teams in our league,” said Blackwell.
The reason is valid considering that most sports play their league opponents two times or more. While it is still the same two to three hours of travel time, it could drive up travel cost.
However, that remains to be seen until the next realignment four years down the road.
Despite the reaction, this move will create a larger voice for the Central Section when the CIF votes on their board members and policies. Currently the section has 11 votes and looks to add one more after this move is complete over the next two years.
The addition of the 19 school will give the section a total of 120 schools, five short of the 125 needed to gain another vote. There is also an added vote for additional enrollment: for every 25,000 students enrolled, a vote is added for that section. When the coast schools join next year, the enrollment gain should provide the section with another vote.
“That may not be a lot, but combined with other sections, you can get some work done,” said Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow.