SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A significant change to the landscape of high school sports could be coming to the Central Coast.
"We've had a discussion over the course of the last year or two about possibly making the move out of the CIF Southern Section, which is where all 16 Central Coast school currently reside and moving some of us to the Central Section, which puts us under a different CIF umbrella," said Pioneer Valley athletic director Greg Lanthier.
Earlier this week, eight schools from the Central Coast signed and sent a letter to local media that is intended for CIF Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow. The letter is notification of their intent to leave from the Southern Section and move to the Central Section, which encompasses the San Joaquin Valley.
The area schools who have committed to the move are: Arroyo Grande, Mission Prep, Paso Robles, Pioneer Valley, Righetti, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and St. Joseph.
The reasons for the potential shift away from what is arguably the premiere high school sports organization in the country are many. One of the biggest issues is simply the size of the section, both in number of member schools and geography.
The Los Alamitos-based Southern Section includes more than 600 schools, and includes numerous counties spanning hundreds of miles, including Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Mono, Inyo and a small portion of Kern.
"We're kind of like the little step-child because we're up north. Teams don't want to travel up here to play us," said Lanthier. "When we do have to go to a playoff game, potentially we're sending our teams to Temecula, or Mission Viejo, or San Clemente. You leave on Friday and have to deal with traffic and you're talking about six hour drive."
The vast geographical nature of the Southern Section is something that also troubles longtime Arroyo Grande athletic director Dwight MacDonald.
"The amount of class time that our students miss, the amount of travel that we have is unreasonable when we have an option to go over to the Central Section and our longest distance traveling would be 195 miles," said MacDonald.
MacDonald noted some sports, such as volleyball and tennis, may have to travel south to Southern California three times a week during the postseason. The long road trips not only affect students academics, they present a huge financial burden as well. A move to the Central Section would dramatically cut both the distance and time spent on postseason road trips.
"The financial impact will one where it affects us at a much lesser level for lack of better term," said MacDonald. "We'll not have to play not nearly as much to go over the Central Section as we do in the Southern Section."
The CIF Central Section Executive Board will discuss the potential move during its meeting on Oct. 5. A formal vote on the move is expected to come early next year.
"In January, they'll have an official vote to accept us or not," said Lanthier. "If we're accepted, and we're assuming we are going to be accepted, we would then be on their schedule after next year, which would be 2018-19, we would then move into the Central Section for playoff purposes."
In addition to both travel and financial benefits, both Lanthier and MacDonald agree that a move to the Porterville-based Central Section will also benefit Central Coast teams at a competitive level and provide more opportunities for athletes to succeed.
"A lot of teams that have not had a lot of playoff experience will have playoff experience, which I believe will help build their program. It's more of a positive when your teams qualify for the playoffs, so that should help quite a few schools in our area," said MacDonald.
Whereas Arroyo Grande consistently has most of its athletic programs qualify for the postseason, at other schools, playoff success is more elusive. That could change because with far fewer schools in the Central Section, qualifying for the postseason would become less challenging.
"For a school like Pioneer Valley, we make the playoffs in very few sports in the Southern Section, but we could make the playoffs in many more sports in the Central Section," said Lanthier.
Athletic directors also mention another benefit for the move is the difference in playoff bracketing. The Central Section awards home playoff games to the higher seeded team throughout the playoffs, while in the Southern Section, many times the host location comes down to a coin flip. Should a Central Coast team earn a top seed, they would be guaranteed to host home games throughout the playoffs.
In addition, the CIF Southern Section allows school to retain only 10 percent of the gate profit at a home game, a meager amount considering the numerous expenses needed to host an event. Schools in the Central Section are allowed to keep 20 percent of the gate during the postseason, a considerable increase, especially for high revenue events such as a playoff football or basketball game.
In the letter to be sent to Crichlow, the local Central Coast teams seeking membership said their request is predicated on two major stipulations.
First, they requested no restrictions for hosting playoff contests or that the teams be mandated to travel to current Central Section teams during the postseason for a set period of time.
Secondly, they requested the Central Coast teams have their own "area" for purposes of league realignment. The Central Coast teams plan to form an "association" that will divide the teams into two separate leagues (an upper and lower) that will be formed on competitive equity. In addition, they asked for a representative to be placed on the Executive Board for representation.
As for the other teams in the area, many are still undecided on their intentions, including Atascadero, Templeton, Morro Bay and Nipomo. Any or all of those teams may decide to join the other eight teams, or perhaps choose to remain in the CIF-SS.
Complicating matters, both Morro Bay and Nipomo are in school districts with other schools that are intending to move. It's unknown if the San Luis Coastal School Unified District would force both Morro Bay to compete in the same section as San Luis Obispo. Likewise, Lucia Mar Unified School District with Nipomo and Arroyo Grande.
Meantime, Lompoc, Cabrillo and Santa Ynez have all stated their desire to remain in the Southern Section. It's unknown what direction Orcutt Academy might pursue.
If the schools are successful in transitioning to the CIF Central Section, they'll be required to stay for at least four years.