Scoring the Sac-Joaquin Section realignment

April 24, 2013 

    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
    Recent stories written by Brian
    On Twitter: @modestobeek

After months of haggling and justifying, and through a process that included more whining than adults should be allowed to utter, the Sac-Joaquin Section realignment plan for 2014 and beyond finally was ratified on Tuesday.

And what started as a wide-ranging football-based plan that would have left conferences struggling to find new regional identities ended as a football-based solution certain to facilitate at least two more years of whining before the plan can be tweaked.

Yet through it all the process created winners and losers, and since we keep score in everything else, why shouldn't realignment follow suit?

So, on a 20-point scale, from plus-10 to minus-10, here's my scorecard on how some leagues and schools fared through this tempestuous process.

The Winners

+ 10 — The Modesto Metro ConferenceThe MMC successfully lobbied against the plan that would have merged its members with the Central California Conference, and in the process finally made public what we've suspected for years — that MMC officials consider league titles the highest goal worth pursuing.

There's nothing wrong with that, and it's nice to have that philosophy out in the open.

But here comes the part where I will disagree with the majority of the coaches in the MMC, and why I gave the MMC the highest possible score.

The move of Modesto Christian basketball to the MMC can do nothing but help the level of basketball in the conference, the same way it raised the level of play in the Trans-Valley League.

More than any other team sport, basketball players and teams improve by playing against teams at a higher level. Ripon, Riverbank and Escalon embraced the challenge of having MC as a league member, made the commitment to challenge the Crusaders and improved because of it.

One MMC boys' coach told me that he'd forfeit rather than play MC in basketball, and I don't know him well enough to know whether he was kidding.

Would this coach or any other attempt to dissuade one of his student athletes from enrolling in AP classes for fear of failure?

Keep in mind this +10 score is provisional and will stand only if the move of Modesto Christian basketball to the MMC is accepted as an opportunity instead of bemoaned as a burden.

+6 — SonoraThe list of positives attached to the Wildcats' move into the Mother Lode League is too long to mention here, but in terms of competition, travel and the ability to form natural rivals, this is a perfect fit.

So why didn't Sonora get the perfect score?

It goes back to what was just mentioned about the MMC, because that flows both ways. Right now, Sonora football is competitive at the Valley Oak League level. That's the measuring stick for the Wildcats.

But starting in 2014, Sonora's success will not be measured by outcomes against Oakdale, Manteca and Sierra, it will be measured against Summerville, Calaveras and Argonaut.

In the opposite effect of MMC basketball teams having to raise their level to battle Modesto Christian, Sonora's programs, within a span of 2-3 seasons, will lower their sights to be content with success in the MLL.

+4 — The CCC and OakdaleOne point for each of the four seasons the CCC will be able to remain in its current alignment and the Mustangs will continue to be the football power in the VOL.

The CCC is a great example of a conference that works, with the occasional major sports teams able to advance as contenders at the section level, and despite enrollment disparities there was no glaring need for change.

Moving the Mustangs to the MMC never really made sense. Yes, Oakdale dominates in football and looks poised to do so for years to come.

But on a year-to-year basis the VOL already is the best football league in the area, and we all shuddered to think what kind of scores the Mustangs would have posted during the course of an MMC season.

The losers:

-2 — The Mother Lode LeagueThis is a split tally. The MLL will be better on a competitive level and will gain financially from adding Sonora as a natural rival for all sports. That's a no-brainer worth about six points.

But I'm subtracting eight points for whining.

For years I've heard the complaints from some MLL coaches that their sports don't get the respect they deserve, particularly during football playoffs, when measured against the district's other Division 4 league, the TVL.

But, during the realignment discussion period, MLL representatives spoke of how they wouldn't be able to compete against Sonora, especially in football.

And what was the solution the MLL was embracing? Sending Sonora football to the TVL.

-10 — Central CatholicI'm still trying to grasp the logic here. Because Raiders' football is historically strong, the section voted to send all its programs — tennis, soccer, etc. — to the Valley Oak League. For the record, Central's formal appeal was shot down 45-6 on Wednesday.

If football was the culprit here, then just move the football team. Not certain why that never was proposed, but even that would not be a wise move.

Yes, Central Catholic has the best football program in the WAC. Yes, the Raiders beat St. Mary's last season and went on to an embarrassingly lopsided victory in a state bowl game.

But it's necessary to look more closely at the details. Central routinely dresses between 30-35 football players, and at the end of a close game between 15-20 of those uniforms were free of grass stains.

The concept of depth was not considered carefully enough, and it will be a safety issue when six or more players have to play both sides of the ball every week in Valley Oak League play.

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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