“We’re getting closer to Texas and a true state champion. Of course, it makes the season longer, but I think it’s neat. It’s an interesting concept, but I wouldn’t want to see it take away from the division championship. But it hasn’t done that, I don’t think. It adds an interesting twist and I really don’t see a problem with it. The preseason may have to be adjusted.”
— Monrovia coach Ryan Maddox.
“From a medical standpoint, there is not any definitive data that says five games is enough or 15. Most people don’t like this answer, but it really depends on the coach. The doctors said that if that coach is teaching and coaching correctly and what they mean by correctly in football is they’re hitting one day a week, they’re in pads one day a week and keeping the length of practice to a respectable time limit, and what we mean by that is two hours then these kids can play forever.”
— CIF associate director Roger Blake.
By Aram Tolegian
STORY: Depending on who you ask, the lengthening of the prep football season is either a really good thing or something so bad it’s unimaginable. Late last week, the California Interscholastic Federation state council gave final approval to adding regional bowl games to the state championship bowl games format for high school football. And there’s been no shortage of opinions on whether the move was ahead-of-the-curve thinking or a money grab that jeopardizes the safety of student athletes.
Under the new format, the CIF sections that make up the southern half of the state would contest five regional bowl games the weekend after the Southern Section championships are played. That would mean a 15th game for teams invited to play in these games. The winners would then move on to a 16th game, the state championship bowl games the following week. The new format will start in the 2012 season.
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“I think there are a lot of benefits (to this), and a lot of them are subjective and some of them are very concrete,” CIF executive director Marie Ishida said during a conference call with media members Wednesday morning. “I think this gives an opportunity to some student athletes who probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to play their way into a state championship bowl. I’m talking specifically about those Central Section schools and others in the North.
“A very concrete (benefit) is that as a result of our bowl games, we’ve been able to secure a television contract and we’ve been able to secure a presenting sponsor. And of course, that is all money into the coffers of the state and to the sections. In this particular case, the one thing that’s different is there will be revenue sharing with the sections.”
There currently are five state championship bowl games played the week following the section championships. Schools are spread across five divisions — Divisions 1, 2, 3, Open and Small schools.
Only a handful of teams will be good enough to actually feel the effect of the new format, but for those that do it would mean playing a marathon 16-game season that could presumably start in mid-August and extend into mid-December. The concept originally was shot down two years ago but passed this time when seven of the state’s 10 sections voted to approve it. The Southern Section, San Diego Section and North Coast Section were the three who voted against it.
“It’s too much,” said West Covina head coach Mike Maggiore, whose team went 13-1 and won the Southeast Division championship last season and was in the running to be the Southern Section’s representative in Division 2 in the state championship bowl games last season.
The honor eventually went to Serra, but West Covina was among the top three teams in the division, along with Oceanside. If the new rule was in place, the Bulldogs very well may have had a 15th game against Serra to see who would represent the Southern Section in the Division 2 state bowl championship.
“I think a 14-game season is long enough,” Maggiore said, referring to the 10 regular-season games teams play and the four wins needed to be a Southern Section champion. “I have mixed emotions on it. It’s a pretty long grind, especially getting ready for CIF (playoff games).
“But if we were given the opportunity to play in a regional (bowl) game with the chance to play in a state championship (bowl) game, we would definitely do that.”
The new format means changes even for teams that won’t come close to sniffing a regional bowl game. For instance, the regular season will begin a week earlier in August. Teams will have to have made the semifinals of the playoffs to enjoy the thrill of practicing on Thanksgiving, which used to happen if teams simply reached the second of the playoffs. And finally, all Southern Section championships will be decided by Dec. 1 in 2012 so that the regional bowls can be played Dec. 7-8, with the state championships the following week.
In 2013, the state championship bowl games will take place Dec. 21. The reality of a 16-game season is something longtime Charter Oak coach Lou Farrar thought he’d never see. Farrar’s coaching career has spanned five decades, and when it began the regular season was nine games and only teams that won league championships made the playoffs. The longest a season lasted when Farrar entered coaching was 12 games.
“The guy sitting across the table from me right now is a recruiter from Washington St,” Farrar said when contacted Wednesday. “They’re going to play 12 games, 13 if they make a bowl. So if they’re lucky, they’re going to play 13. If we’re lucky, we’ll play 16. Our guys are 15, 16, 17, 18years old, his guys are 19, 20, 21 years old. It’s crazy.”
Safety concerns about asking teenage athletes to play high-level football for an additional two weeks was at the fore of CIF’s due diligence before proposing the expansion of the bowl season, but according to CIF associate director Roger Blake sports medicine doctors he contacted said there was no significant increase in the odds of a player getting injured, whether he played a five-game or 16-game season. And Blake is putting the onus on the coaches to make sure their players can handle the load.
“From a medical standpoint, there is not any definitive data that says five games is enough or 15,” Blake said. “Most people don’t like this answer, but it really depends on the coach. The doctors said that if that coach is teaching and coaching correctly and what they mean by correctly in football is they’re hitting one day a week, they’re in pads one day a week and keeping the length of practice to a respectable time limit, and what we mean by that is two hours then these kids can play forever.”
A local team has never been selected to a bowl game under the current format, but La Habra has been in the conversation. The Highlanders have won six Southern Section championships in the past nine years, and if that success keeps up the odds are high that head coach Frank Mazzotta will see his team eventually get invited to a regional bowl game. But Mazzotta, who sits on the football advisory committee for the CIF-Southern Section, was part of the majority that voted on expanding the season with regional bowl games.
“It’s just the length of the season and the (potential for) injuries that’s part of it,” Mazzotta said. “It’s just too long to play. I thought it was a good idea to not have it. We voted not to do it, but we were outvoted.”
Last season, La Habra played a daunting nonleague schedule that saw the Highlanders lose games to upper-division foes Servite, Orange Lutheran and St. John Bosco. Despite winning the Southwest Division championship, La Habra’s 11-3 record probably was not sexy enough to warrant consideration for a state championship bowl game. Mazzotta said easing up La Habra’s nonleague schedule may be a possibility in the future, to not only make his team’s record more attractive to the selection committee but also to rationalize his team’s energy for what could be a longer season.
Monrovia’s Ryan Maddox is one coach with a dissenting opinion regarding the regional state bowl games concept . Maddox’s Wildcats went 12-2 last season and won the Mid-Valley Division championship. Because of that, Monrovia was under consideration for a state championship bowl game berth in Division 4. With one more round added to the docket, teams such as Monrovia see their odds of playing a 15th game substantially increase.
“We’re getting closer to Texas and a true state champion,” Maddox said. “Of course, it makes the season longer, but I think it’s neat. It’s an interesting concept, but I wouldn’t want to see it take away from the division championship. But it hasn’t done that, I don’t think. It adds an interesting twist and I really don’t see a problem with it. The preseason may have to be adjusted.”