LODI — Football may still be king, but the crown is tarnishing.
In the annual media luncheon held Thursday at the Sac-Joaquin Section office, Assistant Commissioner Will De Board covered everything from the financial status of the SJS to possible suspensions for repeated fighting with some rule changes thrown in for good measure.
Football revenue is by far the largest component of the section budget, and there has been a consistent drop off statewide in player participation, losing 2,981 players alone from 2017 to 2018 while section football revenue has dropped by nearly $100,000 over the last two seasons.
Last year’s drop-off was due in part to smoke from the devastating Camp Fire, forcing rescheduling of playoff games and much lower attendance, but things were already heading south.
There may be a way out. With several teams in the section only having two levels — dropping either the freshman or junior varsity teams — De Board pointed out that perhaps eight-man football would help those programs with significantly dropping participation.
One or two schools will not get it done, however.
“At a minimum, we need six to eight teams to jump into the pool,” De Board said.
Commissioner Mike Garrison noted that last year was the most undisciplined and unsportsmanlike year he has seen on the gridiron, and he had some harsh words for school administrators earlier this week at the administrator’s luncheon.
“They had better find a way to fix it,” Garrison said.
Currently, a player ejected faces a one-week suspension and can then return to competition. There is talk within the section of a progressive form of discipline where penalties would increase with each successive infraction.
Other items discussed on Media Day:
• The section has added a new award this year — #TrueToYourSchool. Section schools may show examples of their school spirit by submitting videos of their cheering sections. Cheerleaders are not part of the determination, but how well they rev up their cheering sections are.
• Soccer, baseball, softball and girls volleyball have a top-nine classification, meaning the top nine leagues in each sport will be awarded an extra playoff qualifier. Not surprisingly, all the local boys soccer leagues made it into the top. In addition, the Valley Oak League cracked the threshold in baseball, softball and soccer; the Trans-Valley League in softball, soccer and girls volleyball and the Southern League in baseball and softball.
• As a result of playing in the boys basketball open division last season, Weston Ranch will have to compete in the Division I bracket despite playing in the Division III VOL and winning a SJS title in Division III.
• In a playoff format continued from last year, football playoff divisions are determined now for the most part. Despite enrollment, a team may not participate at a division more than one less than its league and must participate at its league division if it is league champion. Some schools have been moved up a division or even two due to prior success and when the shuffling cause by placement of the league champions occur, a team or two may be forced down a division, but that will not happen to many teams.
• Two other significant changes this year have to do with student sport levels and competition against non-CIF schools. This year, a player called up to the junior varsity or varsity during the season may return to their former level, whereas in the past once a player was called up to varsity during league play, they had to stay there.
• CIF athletes may not participate against athletes from schools which are not eligible for their state playoffs. While that is not a big issue with California teams, there are schools that are prep schools and not part of any league and not sanctioned by their state federation. The most likely venue to encounter these schools is during holiday wrestling and basketball tournaments and a CIF athlete must not compete in that instance or face sanctions.
• Last season, the state wrestling championships went coed with the girls champions determined alongside the boys. This season, the SJS Masters Championships will follow that same format.