The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Section voted unanimously Tuesday morning to welcome 13 Central Coast high schools into the fold, finalizing a move that has been in the works for more than a year.
The schools — Nipomo, Templeton, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Mission Prep, Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, St. Joseph, Pioneer Valley, Righetti, Santa Maria, Orcutt Academy and Paso Robles — had been a part of the CIF-Southern Section, a massive and highly competitive athletics conference that currently stretches from south of Los Angeles to northern San Luis Obispo County. The 13 local schools will join the much smaller section currently made up of 102 schools in the San Joaquin Valley — with most coming from Fresno, Bakersfield and Clovis — starting in the 2018-19 school year. The CIF-Southern Section has about 600 schools.
The move was approved by 38 Central Section athletic directors and nine board members, but not before some give and take.
In the past, the Central Section has mandated that new schools would be banned from hosting playoff games for three years after joining. But the 13 Central Coast schools agreed that was a deal breaker, so the Central Section agreed to allow the schools to join in full without a playoff ban.
On the other side of the negotiation, the newly formed 13-school league agreed on less of a take from ticket sales on home playoff games. They accepted a 20-40-40 split on the gate made during playoff games for their first three years in the Central Section — meaning the host school will pull in 20 percent, the visiting school gets 40 percent and the Central Section will pocket 40 percent. After three years, the split will go to the Central Section’s standard 30-30-40 split. The split for Southern Section playoff ticket sales was 20-20-60.
The move faced some opposition, but overall it was seen as a win by most of the local athletic directors and school officials involved. The move will place the schools in a conference that most officials determined puts their teams on a more level playing field and saves money on travel, among other benefits, athletic directors said.
“I think it’s what is gong to be in the best interest for kids in our area that play sports as well as for the teachers and coaches,” said Arroyo Grande athletic director Dwight MacDonald, a strong proponent of the move. “There will be less travel time and less out-of-class time.”
Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow said he was happy to add the schools to the mix and their addition would help fill out playoff brackets. Last season, in the Central Section Division I playoffs, the top four teams had byes because the division had 12 teams in a 16-team bracket.
“Plus, we play them anyways (during the season), so it was a win-win,” Crichlow said Tuesday.
Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod had previously given the teams the OK to move and sent an email to Crichlow on Tuesday asking for a letter that confirms the vote.
“Once I receive that letter, I will respond with a letter of my own finalizing the process,” Wigod wrote.
Now, the 13 local schools will begin the process of forming a new league in time for the 2018-19 school year.
“We will be meeting in near future with our main goal to be to develop competitive leagues,” Atascadero athletic director Sam DeRose said. “Our ultimate question is, ‘What is it going to look like?’ ”
DeRose was around when the Northern League merged with the Los Padres League in 1999 and said overall the two leagues were able to combine to make a better product. The 13 teams are expected to be broken into two leagues that differ based on the success of each sport.
Crichlow said he and his staff plan to visit in March to meet with the local athletic directors and begin the shift. After that, both sides will begin the difficult process of division placement within the Central Section, which is sure to include plenty of lobbying from all 13 schools involved.
Now it’s up to the three schools from the Central Coast that didn’t make the move — including Lompoc, Santa Ynez and Cabrillo, which played in conferences including the 13 schools making the jump — to figure out what to do next. They will have to find new homes within another Southern Section league.