The big news from two weeks ago of USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 Conference for the Big Ten beginning in 2024 is the type of outside the box thinking that shakes up the sports world. We thought about what could be some similar moves that could shake up the California high school sports landscape.
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If someone were to say even a year ago that the decades-long connection of Southern California universities USC and UCLA to the other California universities in the Pac-12 Conference would be broken in a few years, then that person likely would have been called crazy.
But late last month, officials for the Trojans and Bruins announced their intention to leave the Pac-12 and then the next day it was a unanimous vote of members from the Big Ten to accept them. Recent mega-billion dollar TV deals that the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference (SEC) obtained with major networks and streaming services have shaken up the traditional college conference alignments, beginning last year with Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 and going to the SEC. It’s now even being reported that San Diego State might soon be joining the SEC as conferences are scrambling to get the San Diego media market into their realm.
As a media entity that has focused on California high school sports for 44 years, the first thoughts we had were not so much about what Cal and Stanford might do in the next few years or if schools like San Diego State or Fresno State should be courted to join the Pac-12. Instead, it didn’t take long to think about possibilities that might have the same shock value but if you looked at it closer might still make some sense. Here’s the ones we came up with:
Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas Joins the CIF
We already have California high schools geographically that are competing in the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association so why couldn’t there be one from Nevada as part of the CIF?
Those California schools that are in the NIAA do it for travel reasons. They are primarily in the Lake Tahoe area – South Tahoe, Tahoe-Truckee and North Tahoe of Tahoe City – as the alternative of going back and forth to places near Sacramento doesn’t make sense compared to traveling to schools generally near Reno.
But it also doesn’t make sense for a private Catholic school like Bishop Gorman to continue to play for Nevada state championships in which it dominates in many sports. The Gaels, in fact, might be in the long term the only football program on the West Coast with the resources to even be competitive with CIF super powers Mater Dei and St. John Bosco.
The cost of travel to Bishop Gorman would of course be a major obstacle, but there are supporters of the school who could help make it all happen. It’s Las Vegas. Someone with streaming rights to football games would potentially make a lot of money and in turn could get those dollars to the schools to pay for those costs.
With its traditions in many sports, the Gaels would be culturally linked to the current schools in the Southern Section’s Trinity League (also includes Servite of Anaheim, Orange Lutheran, Santa Margarita of Rancho SM and JSerra of SJ Capistrano). A seven-team Trinity League might be unworkable, but the competition would go from insane to even more insane. Bishop Gorman also could be independent of a league, playing a school like Corona Centennial or Norco one week and then a team like Sierra Canyon or Mater Dei the next.
Expanded CIF Central Section
The resources aren’t even close to the same as the Southern Section, but adding more schools from the northern regions of the CIFSS to the Central would just be a continuance of what has seemed to be the successful transition of schools from San Luis Obispo County that took place for the 2018-19 school year. This also would further decrease the number of schools in the Southern Section, which for many longtime followers in the state have thought is just too big (especially since no other section is still even close to in size).
Santa Barbara County schools, which in a way are even more forgotten about in the Southern Section than before now that their northern neighbors are in the Central, would be the first to split. But it also would make some sense for schools in the Antelope Valley (especially the ones in Kern County) to look more toward similar schools in Bakersfield and Fresno to compete against than those in the L.A. basin or even Orange County. It might not even be that far-fetched for the Santa Clarita Valley schools to join them.
Another area of Central Section expansion could be to the north in Merced County. Schools like Merced, Golden Valley of Merced, El Capitan of Merced, Atwater and Buhach Colony of Atwater already are part of the Fresno TV market and watch Friday night football highlights on Fresno TV stations. Merced and Madera (which has been in the Central Section for years) also are longtime rivals in many sports (especially football) and if Merced was in the Central Section the two could perhaps be in the same league.
Mater Dei & St. John Bosco Football
Allowed To Play For “National” Title
We don’t know if it’s going to be another one of those football seasons coming up in which Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. John Bosco of Bellflower play twice (once for the Trinity League title and then later for the CIFSS title) and it wasn’t the case just last season (thanks to Servite of Anaheim beating the Braves in the semifinals). But if it happens again (and those two teams are just too much for others like Centennial of Corona, Los Alamitos and Mission Viejo) and it looks like there’s no end in sight of those two continuing to dominate for years to come, the CIF should seriously consider letting both of them join what could be called a national high school football championship playoff series.
We’re sure there are promoters who would have the big dollars lined up to have such an event. The playoffs wouldn’t even bother with teams having to win a section or state title to get in. Based on all of the top players already going to these big-time programs due to pending NLI deals, their ability already to travel to games all over the nation and more, what would be the point? It would take schools like Mater Dei, St. John Bosco, Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, IMG Academy of Florida, St. Michael’s of Washington, DC, St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida and perhaps two others like them and set up an eight-team playoff in which the winner is the true national champ.
The rub against it would be that Mater Dei and Bosco wouldn’t be going for a CIFSS title beforehand and their second matchup instead could be for the national title. All of the eight teams playing at the end also would continue to play games against each other in consolation or showcase games so that no one would be playing just one playoff game after its regular season.
With MD and Bosco out of the equation, the rest of the CIFSS D1 playoffs would still be fantastic as an eight-team bracket. And while the third-best CIFSS team still might win in the CIF Open Division state final most of the time at least the game itself would be much more competitive.
The CIF has not allowed MD and Bosco or any other California schools the opportunity to play a program like IMG Academy for several years. That rule would have to be changed, but in the name of competitive equity (which is what the CIF has been all about for the last eight to 10 years) and because the CIF probably could still earn dollars from any TV deal that a national championship as described would bring, why not?
De La Salle to the WCAL & CCS
As one who just made a lot of visits this past school year to St. Francis of Mountain View (where there is construction going on for even more modern classrooms), if there could be a NorCal version of the Trinity League then it could be a West Catholic Athletic League set up with De La Salle of Concord joining St. Francis, Bellarmine Prep of San Jose, Valley Christian of San Jose, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, Serra of San Mateo and the San Francisco schools.
Those WCAL schools, in many ways, are just so similar to De La Salle, which has been part of the CIF North Coast Section since it started in the early 1970s. It’s just that the NCS doesn’t have any other Catholic schools like the Spartans with the exception of perhaps Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in basketball. Carondelet on the girls side, of course, would have to go with the De La Salle boys.
All of the other WCAL schools are currently in the CIF Central Coast Section and like Bishop Gorman going to the CIF a similar move by De La Salle to the WCAL and CCS would be super-expensive to pull off and the travel (especially going over the Bay Bridge to get to San Francisco) would be ridiculous. Still, streaming options and potential TV revenue could be out there to help pay for it all. It’s not exactly going to be a picnic for teams from UCLA and USC, by the way, to be getting on planes to the Midwest all of the time (and to Pennsylvania as well), but the dollars coming in will make up for it.
Are any of these ideas “thinking outside of the box” like USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12? Maybe not, but every once in a while it is fun to look at high school football and high school sports in what could be very different levels of competition.