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Changes Sweep Local Football Methods for Crowning Top Teams
November, 2006 - Issue #25
If you're a fan of local high school football, this has to be your favorite time of year.

After watching the Santa Clarita Valley's teams entertain a long line of tough non-league opponents (some of them common), you can finally stop guessing which one will rule the valley in 2006.

The Foothill League season is officially underway. The battle for SCV supremacy has begun in earnest.

But is local supremacy the only high school football prize worth eyeing as the weather turns colder in the SCV?

Hardly.

Santa Clarita stands on a long tradition of high school football excellence - an excellence that usually sees football teams playing into the postseason, well beyond Thanksgiving.

Hart and Canyon boast 12 CIF-Southern Section championships between them and Valencia has been to the section finals three times.

Last year's Division II final was an-all Foothill League affair, and three of the four semifinalists hailed from the SCV.

So if the Foothill League season, important though it is, is a precursor to the playoffs, wouldn't now be about the right time to start contemplating the postseason?

"CIF section commissioners will select state championships contenders solely among teams that win a section title - one from the north and one from the south across three separate divisions."
This year more than ever, actually.

The CIF has overhauled the playoff system, gutting the old divisional system in favor of what they have deemed a more geographically-friendly configuration.

Added to that, California has adopted a state playoff system. They'll be no more bickering over end-of-the-year rankings. This year, the title of best team will be decided on the field.

"A state playoff is exciting," said Valencia head football tips coach Larry Muir. "It will be neat to see the kids get to play in those bigger games."

Few kids will actually have the opportunity, however.

For starters, CIF section commissioners will select state championships contenders solely among teams that win a section title - one from the north and one from the south across three separate divisions. Divisions depend on school size.

Canyon, Hart, Saugus and Valencia, should any of those teams win a section title, would be up for the south's Division I bid, while Golden Valley and West Ranch would fall into Division II.

The three state championship bowl games will take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson on December 6.

But let's back up a few steps.

The road to the Home Depot Center leads through the section playoffs, and in 2006, that's brand new territory for everyone.

The Foothill League teams are no longer in CIF-SS Division II. They are now in what's called the Northern Division, along with teams from the Channel, PAC-7, Marmonte and Pacific View Leagues.

Gone are Orange Country rivals Mission Viejo and San Clemente, which will compete in the PAC-5 Division. Gone too are those Friday afternoon commutes through the Los Angeles basin.

Not everyone is convinced it's a fair trade.

"We were told the new system would be geographic - that it would enhance rivalries and minimize travel," said Canyon head football coach Harry Welch. "Well, it happens that they put us in a section that has us playing teams as far north as San Luis Obispo. So I think it was misrepresented. It was sold as a good idea and I'm not sure it was a good idea."

Muir sees it from a different perspective.

"Plucking onions as requested by his wife, Don Francisco Lopez discovered the first of California's gold in 1842.""So perhaps the question to ask is not whether Foothill League teams are ready for a challenging new cast of playoff opponents, but rather, is that new cast of opponents ready for the Foothill League?"
"Yeah, it's a long drive [to San Luis Obispo], but it's a different type of drive than to Orange County," he said. "Trying to cross town on a Friday, you never know what you're going to get."

Another wrinkle in the new playoff configuration is that only three Foothill League teams will make the playoffs. In a competitive league like the Foothill, that means at least one good team will miss the postseason.

And for the teams that do make the playoffs, the climb to a championship may be steeper.

The inclusion of the Channel League puts perennial powerhouse St. Bonaventure on the playoff map, along with Buena and Ventura, while the Marmonte League brings teams such as Westlake, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks into the picture.

"It looks like there's more depth," Muir said. "Before, there was Hart, Canyon, Valencia and Mission Viejo. Now with teams like St. Bonaventure, Moorpark and those teams from the Marmonte League and the team up north, it's pretty deep."

Hart has already gotten a taste of what's ahead, courtesy of St. Bonaventure's 34-0 stomping of the Indians to open the season on September 1.

Hart head football coach Mike Herrington referred to his new section rivals as "a Ventura Country all-star team" after that game, but he faced a similar challenge under the old system.

Herrington rightly called Mission Viejo an Orange County all-star team last year, even before his Indians beat the then number-two team in the country (according to "USA Today") 24-12 in the CIF-SS Division II semifinals.

The section crown ultimately went to Canyon.

So perhaps the question to ask is not whether Foothill League teams are ready for a challenging new cast of playoff opponents, but rather, is that new cast of opponents ready for the Foothill League?

We'll know soon enough.
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