Sabedra: More smart changes coming to a prominent Bay Area high school football league

Paul Rosa coaches football at Wilcox High. His teams have been among the Central Coast Section’s best since he took over the Santa Clara school’s program in 2015.

Given the success, Rosa could keep his ideas to himself and toot his horn about all the one-sided victories that his teams have piled up.

But that’s not him.

Rosa doesn’t like showing up for league games knowing the outcome before a ball is snapped. He wants his kids to play competitive games, not blowout after blowout.

So Rosa made a proposal to tweak his league, which underwent a major overhaul last year when the league that Wilcox had called home for years – the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League – merged with the Peninsula Athletic League.

The merger was done to help programs at levels lower than Wilcox plays.

It evened the playing field for the likes of Monta Vista, Saratoga, Mills and South San Francisco, creating a division for the so-called little guys, programs that in some cases were barely hanging on.

But there was still a problem.

The merged league’s two “A” divisions were top-heavy, particularly the one that included Wilcox, Los Gatos, Homestead, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Milpitas.

Wilcox’s four league victories were by an average of 34.3 points. Los Gatos won its five league games by an average of 39.8.

Rosa introduced a proposal to help resolve the issue, and that plan will be implemented next season, the last of a two-year commitment made by the SCVAL and PAL when they joined forces.

One can only hope the merger extends beyond 2023.

Under Rosa’s proposal, the merged league of five divisions will put its best teams in the top grouping. It will be categorized as “A+” and automatically send five of its six teams to the CCS playoffs.

The league’s second division will be classified as “A-” and automatically send three of its six teams to the playoffs.

The league’s two six-team “B” divisions – one categorized as “B+” and the other as “B-” – will each receive two automatic playoff spots.

The league’s remaining nine teams will be placed in a “C” division, with only the champion automatically advancing to the playoffs.

“Everybody wants to play competitive games during the season, I think,” Rosa said on Thursday. “No matter if you’re really good or really bad, you just like to be in competitive games, and we just weren’t in those.

“If you’re really having five divisions, that’s the whole reason why we merged, to try to have apples with apples, oranges with oranges. I think this is the way it should have been done and most people agreed.

“No matter what you do, there’s always going to be somebody that’s upset because it was better the other way for them. You’re never going to get everybody perfect, but I think this gets the most people happy.”

Los Gatos coach Mark Krail agreed.

“It’s the best system possible,” he said. “My biggest thing philosophically — and I don’t know that everybody agrees — is that when you’re building a program or running a program, you always strive to get better and to play the best competition that you can.

“I am speaking obviously from a vantage point of being pretty blessed in terms of numbers and the support that we have. But even in my days at Pioneer and Santa Clara, our goal was to make it to the top division and play with the best teams. That certainly hasn’t changed.”

Here’s how the divisions will be aligned:

PAL Bay (A+)

Burlingame, Los Gatos, Menlo-Atherton, Mountain View, Sacred Heart Prep, Wilcox

PAL De Anza (A-)

Half Moon Bay, Homestead, Menlo School, Palo Alto, Hillsdale, The King’s Academy

PAL Ocean (B+)

Aragon, Capuchino, Terra Nova, Milpitas, San Mateo, Sequoia

PAL El Camino (B-)

Carlmont, El Camino, Fremont-Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Santa Clara, Woodside

PAL Lake (C)

Cupertino, Gunn, Jefferson, Lynbrook, MacDonald, Mills, Monta Vista, Saratoga, South San Francisco

(MacDonald, a new public school in Santa Clara, is starting varsity football in the fall)

The teams weren’t positioned without thought and data.

One could certainly argue that Mountain View and to a lesser extent Burlingame could have landed in the “A-” division and Half Moon Bay, Menlo School or Palo Alto could have been included with the “A+” teams.

Last season, Mountain View lost to Sacred Heart Prep 41-7, Wilcox 44-14 and Los Gatos 56-0. The Spartans finished 1-4 in league play and 4-8 overall.

But Mountain View coach Tim Lugo explained that it wasn’t last year’s results that factored into the decision, except for final computer ratings.

A program’s number of juniors and sophomores and returning varsity and all-league players were part of the criteria the committee used to determine where teams were placed.

“It’s designed to look ahead to next year,” Lugo said. “Numbers aren’t everything. We have the freedom to (counter), ‘I don’t care what those numbers say. That team’s an ‘A’ and they’re not a ‘B.’’

“That’s kind of how we came to where we’re at. Let’s face it. The top four in the league were easy. Us, Burlingame, Half Moon Bay, Menlo, Palo Alto, you could probably throw all of us in a hat and pick two and we’re all basically the same school. My problem is I have the most returning all-leaguers.”

Lugo said if he could make one change, it would be to include measurables for returning linemen.

“All my returning guys are skill players,” he said. “My linemen are not. But I am OK with our placement. I am on the committee. I understand what we’re doing. I am not going to appeal it. We’ll go compete and do the best we can.”

The good news for Mountain View: With all but one team in the division automatically qualifying for the playoffs – and the sixth team potentially advancing as an at-large – the Spartans have a decent shot to reach the postseason.

CCS playoff changes

There are still administrative steps to clear before they become official. But the CCS is moving toward two noteworthy changes to its football playoffs.

Teams from “A” leagues will not be allowed to drop below Division III and Division I will be modeled after the North Coast Section’s top division.

In the NCS, the top two seeds are placed in one half of the eight-team bracket, setting up a path for them to meet in Week 2 of the playoffs for the Open title and a berth in a regional game.

The loser of the Open game plays the team that advances in the other half of the bracket for the Division I title in Week 3 of the playoffs, with the winner advancing to a regional.

The NCS model is a creative way to send two Division I teams to the state playoffs, one devised after the California Interscholastic Federation mandated that only section champions can move on.

Last fall, No. 1 De La Salle beat No. 8 James Logan and No. 2 Pittsburg defeated No. 7 Antioch in the first round. The following week, De La Salle beat Pittsburg for the NCS Open title. A week later, Pittsburg defeated No. 3 Clayton Valley for the section’s Division I title.

De La Salle and Pittsburg went on to capture regional championships.

Los Gatos vs. Pittsburg: Butch Cattolico Classic?

Los Gatos has filled four of its five non-league openings on its 2023 schedule. Among the matchups will be a home game in late September against Pittsburg, the alma mater of longtime Los Gatos coach Butch Cattolico, who retired after the 2012 season.

“We were laughing about having the Cattolico Classic or whatever,” Krail said. “But knowing Butch, he wouldn’t have anything to do with that. There is no way. He is still pretty well-renowned there, apparently.”

Los Gatos also has scheduled non-league games against Liberty, Live Oak and Palo Alto.

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