Riverbank High’s football team is off to a rough start this season, posting an 0-3 record and losing by an average margin of 39 points.
Unfortunately, that’s been the norm for the Bruins over the past decade. Since their last winning season in 2004, Riverbank is 14-79 and has lost 36 straight conference games. What’s worse, the Bruins are losing those games by an average of about 40 points.
Since joining the Trans-Valley League in 2006, Riverbank is 1-43, the lone victory a 21-20 squeaker over an 0-10 Ripon Christian team that was in its fourth year playing football.
So what’s a team to do when it’s so clearly overmatched? Well, you take a step back so you can, hopefully, take two forward.
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The Bruins will play an independent schedule starting next year, and has an agreement in place with most of the Mother Lode League teams, who have agreed to give up their Week Zero games so Riverbank can play them during their bye weeks.
“The thinking is that we’ll be able to play some teams of our caliber and become more competitive,” said athletic director John Bartlett. “It’s hard to get kids to come out for football when they just see us getting killed.”
Once the Bruins leave, it will be difficult to come back since other TVL teams will have moved on. The rest of the TVL will have to find opponents to fill the Riverbank void, and that usually means signing a home-and-home contract. So if Riverbank wants to come back, the other TVL teams would have to wiggle out of an agreement with their new opponents.
The next realignment for the Sac-Joaquin Section doesn’t happen until after the 2017-18 school year. However, at the midway point of this four-year cycle – following the 2015-16 school year – Riverbank could switch places with a team in another league, providing the other league members all agree.
There’s probably not a team in the Southern League that would be willing to do it. Would a Mother Lode League team be willing? Maybe … but would the other TVL schools accept an MLL team to join their ranks? If the last realignment negotiations are any indication, no way.
So, it appears likely that Riverbank football will be playing an independent schedule for the next three seasons, and that means no playoffs. But, really, the Bruins have no other choice. They need to get away from the TVL – one of the best small-school football conferences in the state – and reboot the program.
“It wouldn’t be fair for us to pick our own schedule and then be eligible for the playoffs,” said Bartlett. “We understand that.
“It’s about building the program more than anything.”
There are a dozen football teams in the Stanislaus District that have yet to taste defeat this season, and you know what that means … fans are talking playoffs.
It’s too early to even consider the playoffs, let alone talk about in this column, but the section has made some changes to its playoff format and this might be a good time for a tutorial.
There will be seven playoff divisions this season. Division VII (the smallest) will be a six-team bracket made up of teams from Central California Athletic Alliance and the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League. The top three teams in each of these leagues qualify. The No. 1 seeds from each league get a first-round bye. Simple.
Every other team is thrown into one, big playoff pot.
The top two seeds from each of the section’s remaining 21 leagues earn playoff berths. The Delta Valley Conference and the Sierra Football League get an extra automatic berth. Basic math tells us that’s 44 automatic qualifiers. The remaining 28 playoff spots are decided by number of victories.
That’s 72 total playoff teams.
Divisions I, II and III will be 16-team brackets. The section will pick the top 16 schools by enrollment and place them in D-I. The next 16 largest schools go into the D-II bracket. The next 16 in D-III.
That leaves 24 teams. The same process is used to create the eight-team brackets for Divisions IV, V and VI.
Once each team has been placed in its proper division, the section playoff committee will seed the teams 1 through 16 (or 1 through 8).
Under the old system, an 8-2 playoff team would always be seeded ahead of a 6-4 team. That’s not the case any longer.
Under the new system, a team such as Del Oro (Loomis) would be rewarded for playing an aggressive schedule. This year, the Golden Eagles are 1-2 and staring at a 1-3 start. But they’ve played Kamehameha High from Honolulu, state-ranked Helix of La Mesa and they get De La Salle (ranked second in the state) on Friday; and Folsom (ranked fifth in the state) is on their league slate.
Del Oro could end up with four losses and still get a very favorable seed from the committee. And that’s the way it should be.