The ever-evolving local high school league setup will shift once again next year, leaving local coaches pondering the ramifications.
The re-leaguing essentially divides Central Coast schools from two larger leagues into three smaller football leagues primarily based on geographic proximity and school enrollment size.
Of the current PAC 7 teams, five — Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Righetti — will stay together.
“I think the new league will be very competitive, and it will be good to keep some of the traditional rivalries while at the same time getting to stay local and play schools from the other two leagues (in nonleague scheduling),” San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley said. “It means we will save money on transportation costs, which is always helpful.”
The two schools departing the PAC 7 will be St. Joseph, the league’s co-champion last year with Arroyo Grande, and Pioneer Valley.
Consideration of league makeups takes place every four years.
The new football-only Los Padres League next year will consist of Cabrillo, Pioneer Valley, St. Joseph, Santa Ynez and Lompoc — all northern Santa Barbara County schools.
Four of five county teams will make up the new football-only Northern League of smaller schools — Mission Prep, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Santa Maria and Templeton.
But Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen questions whether the re-leaguing will have a negative impact if his team ends up traveling long distances for noneague games.
“With so few league games, we’ll have to schedule more nonleague games,” Goossen said. “That could mean traveling to Fresno or Bakersfield because of the possibility of not being able to find enough local games. That could mean traveling 200 to 300 miles round trip. That’s my concern.”
Since 2002, four San Luis Obispo County schools with the largest enrollment — Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Atascadero – have played in the same league, even with tweaks of other schools.
The re-leaguing has seen Lompoc come and go in that mix, including a four-year stint in the PAC 7 when they won only one league game from 2006-09.
The Braves swiftly changed their fortune in 2010 when they returned to the LPL, only losing only once over a three-year span.
The fact that league changes occur every few years is familiar to Vic Ecklund, a former San Luis Obispo athletic director and head football coach from 1987 until 2001.
“Basically, the idea is always to try to make things equal and even things out,” Ecklund said. “Things change in terms of school size or how much success a program is having in a league. You have to move things around a bit.”
Ecklund, who now coaches the Tigers’ quarterbacks and linebackers, said that nonleague games between local teams of different leagues will save money.
“Games between teams of local leagues, cross-league scheduling, will eliminate the long trips,” Ecklund said. “And that leads to better fan attendance and gate receipts because opposing fans won’t have far to travel.”