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Crusaders lead state's parochial school showcase

Modesto Christian's Isaiah Burse avoids Placer tackles for a yard gain during the D4 section final game at Lincoln High School in Stockton. Dec. 11, 2009. (BRIAN RAMSAY/bramsay@modbee.com)
Modesto Christian's Isaiah Burse avoids Placer tackles for a yard gain during the D4 section final game at Lincoln High School in Stockton. Dec. 11, 2009. (BRIAN RAMSAY/bramsay@modbee.com)

If the California Interscholastic Federation and its section commissioners keep this up, soon there may be no public schools playing for a California football championship.

For the fourth consecutive year, the State Bowl series in Carson could be billed a "private" affair. Private schools have been awarded at least half the slots each year since the CIF bowls debuted in 2006.

The disparity has never been as great as this season, though, with private schools grabbing seven of the 10 berths. Only one of the five Northern California entries, Rocklin, is a public school. Including this year, private schools account for 20 of the 32 bowl teams — 63 percent.

That's a stunning statistic because private schools playing football make up just a tiny fraction of the state's schools.

It's difficult to criticize the picks, however, because these private powerhouses are playing football superior to the public schools.

Of the seven private schools taking the field at the Home Depot Center this weekend, six are obvious selections:

Modesto Christian and Parker of San Diego are in the Small School Bowl, and have been ranked No. 1 in their regions all season. Both are private, and their only rivals for berths were other private schools.

Marin Catholic is playing Serra of Gardena in Division 3, and both private schools beat their private peers to earn bowl berths. There isn't a public school within shouting distance of either.

Rocklin is playing Servite of Anaheim in Division 2. Rocklin is one of the few teams to win a public-school battle for a berth, beating Del Oro in the Sac-Joaquin Section, while Servite is an all-boys Catholic school.

Bellarmine of San Jose, the private school whose selection has been criticized the most heavily, is facing Oceanside in one of three private vs. public showdowns. Bellarmine (11-1-1) got the nod over Nevada Union (13-1), a public school whose only blemish is a 41-36 loss to Rocklin. Bellarmine's loss is 34-10 to St. Mary's of Stockton, which was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs — by the team Rocklin beat in the final.

De La Salle is playing Crenshaw of Los Angeles in a private-public game. De La Salle (12-2) lost to national powers from the East Coast and has been the commissioners' team of choice each year. This will be its fourth consecutive bowl, in only the fourth year of the bowl system.

The CIF didn't intend for the bowl games to become the domain of private-school programs, but it's turned out that way because the 10 commissioners who do the selecting must follow the criteria. Their priorities are analyzing the won-loss record and strength of schedule, and private schools can better marshal the resources.

De La Salle, an affluent all-boys school in Concord, flew to New Jersey for one game this season and brought out a team from Florida for another. Oaks Christian — with the sons of Joe Montana, Will Smith and Wayne Gretzky on the roster — went to Washington for a game this year to boost its appeal, but it lost to Serra of Gardena in a Southern Section final.

Once the bowl system was launched, private schools quickly caught on to the marketing opportunities. Playing in a high-profile bowl game means more media coverage, which gives them more opportunities to sell themselves to potential clients (a.k.a. students).

As we know, the game isn't always played on a level field: Public schools are limited to players who live within their attendance boundaries, while private schools can accept players from around the world.

Strength of schedule isn't even, either.

Few public schools can afford to put a team on a plane and fly to a destination, but the selection criteria doesn't allow commissioners to take account the football budgets of each school. So long as the priority is to put the best teams on the field, private schools will be there in force.

And, for the most part, folks will enjoy what they're providing.

Modesto Christian and Parker are two of the more entertaining teams in the state, boasting dymanic quarterbacks, explosive skill players and wide-open offensive schemes that force foes to play sideline to sideline.

They've been quick to adapt to the newest California craze: Flood the field with athletes and exploit slow-to-react defenses. MC's Isaiah Burse and Parker's Deon Randall each have more than 3,000 yards offense and are "grand" players, with 1,000-plus yards running and passing.

They're a bargain for the entertainment value they provide, and that puts fans in the seats at the Home Depot Center and in front of the TV.

Anyone who watched last year's Small School Bowl deserved a medal for sitting through that 59-7 rout, with St. Margaret's of San Juan Capistrano humiliating tiny Hamilton of Hamilton City. One more of those debacles, commissioner knew, and this bowl game was done for.

The irony is that the Small School Bowl was created because public schools with fewer than 400 students felt they were slighted by the bowl system. They've got a point: All eight schools invited to the Division 3 Bowl have been private, including Modesto's own Central Catholic in 2007.

When all the bowls are combined, private schools hold a 7-4 edge in titles — the Open and Small bowls were added only last year. That victory total will rise to at least nine, and could go as high as 12 with a sweep.

What's the solution?

Here's a better question: Does there need to be one, so long as the commissioners select the top teams, regardless of religious affiliation?

Richard T. Estrada can be reached at 578-2300 or restrada@modbee.com.

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