NBL/SCL realignment coming

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The first thing Trent Herzog wants you to know about the reconfiguration coming to Redwood Empire prep sports in the 2012-13 school year is that you will not have to mourn the Egg Bowl.

<WC1Tanner Giddings’ senior year will be the Jaguars’ last in the Sonoma County League. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

“The Egg Bowl is the Egg Bowl,” said Herzog, Casa Grande’s football coach. “It’s for city bragging rights. We want to keep that trophy, and I’m sure they want to get it back. We’d play the Egg Bowl anytime, anywhere. It’s Petaluma vs. Casa.”

The Trojans and Gauchos may well line up to smack one another every year until the end of time. But starting in the fall of 2012, they will no longer be doing it as league rivals. That autumn, Casa Grande and Windsor will join the North Bay League, while Piner and Elsie Allen take their places in the Sonoma County League.

It’s a reshuffle that everyone hopes will level the playing field in both leagues.
Every four years, local schools can submit proposals to the North Coast Section Alignment and Classification Committee. Last fall was the beginning of a new cycle. On Oct. 14, NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon met with representatives of NBL and SCL schools (mostly principals) to discuss realignment. Cardinal Newman hosted the event, and every school was represented except Ukiah.

The group looked at five separate proposals. Some of them involved carving up the Marin County Athletic League, which almost certainly would have met resistance from those schools. One proposal had been submitted independently by four different schools — Healdsburg, El Molino, Petaluma and Analy. It’s the one that swaps two NBL teams for two SCL teams. It passed that day, by a 20-3 vote, and was approved by the NCS Board of Managers on April 18.
Lemmon said the Alignment and Classification Committee uses three criteria in grouping schools to build leagues — enrollment size, geographic proximity and “competitive equity.” Leagues must have at least six member schools.

In this case, geography didn’t play enough of a role to factor into the equation. As for size, there is a gap between current NBL and SCL schools, and this seems to have played a part in the NCS’s decision to move some of them. Casa Grande (about 1,800 students) and Windsor (just under 1,700) are the largest in the current Sonoma County League. Elsie Allen and Piner, each between 1,100 and 1,200 students, are the smallest public schools now in the North Bay League.
But Lemmon insisted the primary factor was relative strength of the schools’ athletic programs.

To analyze the situation, the NCS developed a point system to quantify each school’s sports achievements — league titles, section championships, whether a team finished in the top or bottom half of the league standings — over a two-year period (2008-09 and 2009-10), and divided that measure by the number of sports played. That generated a ratio for each program.
Petaluma (3.20 in 2008-09, 3.30 in 2009-10) had the highest ratio in the area, but will stay put. Casa Grande had the next highest in the SCL, at 3.00 and 2.90. Windsor (2.10, 2.15) was just ahead of Healdsburg (2.05, 2.11) and Analy (2.00, 2.10). Elsie Allen had the lowest ratio in the NBL at 1.00 and 1.12. No numbers were generated for Piner, which did not submit data. Subjective reputation would place that program ahead of Elsie, but well below the next-lowest NBL school, Santa Rosa (1.75, 1.75).

Not that Piner and Elsie Allen have been without triumphs. The Prospectors captured the NBL cross country championship last fall, for example, and the Lobos’ boys basketball team went 9-5 in league play and won a section playoff game in 2007.
Those are the exceptions, though. The two emigrating NBL schools have had a hard time keeping up in some sports – especially the most high-profile sport of all, football. Last year, Elsie’s football team lost 48-0 to Rancho Cotate, 56-0 to Montgomery and 62-0 to Santa Rosa. The Lobos had already been granted permission to play as an independent football team in 2011; they will join the SCL the following year.

“Elsie Allen had concerns that a lot of their kids weren’t going out for teams because they didn’t want to get pounded every week,” SCL commissioner Dave Ashworth said. “I’m not saying they’ll come in here and win it all right away. But maybe they’ll come in and have a shot at second place, or third place.”
Elsie Allen athletic director Alan Petty confirmed his school’s competitive disadvantage, noting that he has seen visiting teams arrive at his school by bus, then watched as half the opponents walked home to houses in the Elsie neighborhood.

“It ends up being a chicken-and-egg thing,” Petty said. “We’ll be more competitive when we’re able to retain more athletes in our area. But as long as we keep losing, that won’t happen.”
And as other coaches would tell you, those 56-0 results don’t do a lot for the winning teams, either. Their starters aren’t challenged, and their strength of schedule — a factor in section playoff seeding — is diminished.

Most people involved see the 2012 league changes in a positive light. Herzog is one of them. He wants to play the stiffest competition he can find, and he believes the reconfigured NBL will be “one of the top three or four” football leagues in Northern California.
“I’m excited, but it’s bittersweet,” Herzog said. “I’ll miss the relationships with other coaches. We see each other at meetings and at games. I’ll miss those battles with (Healdsburg coach) Tom Kirkpatrick. But I think it’s best for everyone.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.