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30Q-2-KICKOFF (No. 14): Looking ahead to realignment

Today’s question comes to us via a recent comment from Oh Boy.

How will conference realignment next year affect the regional championships? Will it change scheduling? League champions benefit? Strongest football leagues change? Will NCS have the selection advantage over SJS, CCS, OAL, SFS and North teams?

First, let’s recap the realignment set to take place in 2012. The Valley Conference (EBAL, DFAL, DVAL, BVAL) will remain unchanged. But the Bay Shore Conference is undergoing major changes. The MVAL remains mostly the same, keeping its current seven teams (American, Irvington, Kennedy, Logan, Mission San Jose, Newark Memorial and Washington) and adds Moreau Catholic, a former MVAL member.

But two new leagues will be formed from the remnants of the ACCAL, BSAL and HAAL and we still don’t even know what those leagues will be named. They are both 12-team “super” leagues that will be split into six-team divisions based on competitive equity. I’m not sure this detail is finalized, but it’s likely to work out that each division winner earns an automatic NCS berth.

One of those leagues will consist of Alameda, Arroyo, Berkeley, Bishop O’Dowd, Castro Valley, Encinal, Hayward, Mt. Eden, Piedmont, San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Tennyson.

Another will have Albany, De Anza, El Cerrito, Hercules, John Swett, Kennedy-Richmond, Pinole Valley, Richmond, St. Joseph Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, St. Patrick-St. Vincent and Salesian.

There are still a few questions to be asked regarding these leagues. For one, St. Joseph Notre Dame doesn’t play football, so that means one of those divisions only has five teams. Also, currently Salesian plays as an affiliate member of the Bay Football League. If they continue to do so, there’s only 10 football playing teams in that “super” league, meaning two five-team divisions. That adds up to only four league games and six non-league games, which is less than ideal. Hopefully we’ll learn more about how that will work out soon.

On to the question though. How will it affect the regional championships? Well, I think it helps any Bay Shore team that might be good enough to qualify. Take Encinal, for example. The Jets will be in a six-team division, probably lined up with Bishop O’Dowd, San Leandro, Berkeley, and maybe Hayward and Alameda. That’s a decent league schedule to play. Then they’ve got five nonleague games to set up. They can add a good mix of challenging games in the nonleague.

Ditto this situation if we’re talking about any of the teams that are set up to have a real good year, be it Pinole Valley, Berkeley , O’Dowd, whoever. Instead of having their strength of schedule weighed down by playing some of the lesser teams currently in their leagues, they have  a smaller league schedule and can beef up the nonleague. Will those coaches do that? That’s to be determined. But they will have the flexibility in their schedule to at least attempt to ensure that SOS doesn’t cost them a regional title game bid.

That obviously works into the scheduling questions. With only five league games, there’s a lot more nonleague games to set up. Presumably, we’ll see a lot of these Bay Shore teams (particularly ones that were former league rivals) set up nonleague games with each other. Coaches tend to like having a lot of nonleague games because it allows them to do a lot with their scheduling and this should make things interesting.

League champions always benefit and in this scenario, the league champions of the higher divisions will have been battle-tested by playing a mostly competitive league schedule. That’s a plus. And for the teams in the lower division, assuming they are awarded the automatic NCS berth and requisite home game, maybe it helps those programs build a little bit by giving them a chance to win a playoff game.

I know a lot of people on this blog are going to be up in arms about a team winning the lower division calling itself a league champion or earning a home playoff game. But realistically, I think it’ll be rare that one of those teams goes deep in NCS and one of the purposes of high school sports is to give everyone the opportunity to compete. I have personal experience playing in a football program that was unsuccessful year after year and I don’t see a problem in allowing those teams the chance to play in a division that allows them to compete. Who knows, in this setup, maybe one day Mt. Eden and Tennyson are meeting to decide the division title. This could help make the whole section more competitive and it’s definitely a positive if more teams are able to compete and play good football.

I don’t really know how much this realignment changes the NCS’ selection advantage. De La Salle will always be selected as long as it wins NCS. That’s pretty much a given. This should improve the chances of other Bay Shore Conference teams. I don’t see it affecting Valley Conference teams much, except maybe they play some more nonleague games against Bay Shore Conference teams and that builds their resume a bit.

Jimmy Durkin

Jimmy Durkin is a sports writer for the Bay Area News Group.