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New-look SFL is downright tough

By: Mike Ray, Gold Country News Service
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It has long been considered the toughest football league — top to bottom — in the Sacramento area, if not of the entire Sac-Joaquin Section. And now, with the California Interscholastic Federation’s new league realignment set to go into cycle in the fall of 2010, look for the Sierra Foothill League’s football battles to become even tougher. Thanks to the recent passage of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s new realignment package — not to mention a new playoff format that will actually go into effect this season — SFL football and playoffs for Division II-sized schools could get downright ballistic. For foothill-area prep sports fans, that means they’ll have to start getting used to new faces in new places. In the SFL, the current seven-school circuit will be in for a big change. Nevada Union, a perennial Division I grid power in the section, which currently competes in the SFL for all sports except football, now joins the league for all sports. While the Miners join up in all sports, Oakmont of Roseville will leave the SFL after a four-year stay and will become a member of a new-look Capital Valley Conference. The addition of NU to the SFL will strengthen an already tough football league. The Miners are returning to the SFL on the gridiron where they were a league member from 1954 to 1982 for all sports. “We’re excited and looking forward to joining the SFL for football,” said Nevada Union coach Dave Humphers. “The SFL is a league of schools that are passionate about football and every single Friday night will be very, very competitive.” NU, which in recent years has played Granite Bay, Del Oro and Rocklin in the preseason, will play both Roseville and Rocklin this year in non-league games. While the new league realignment proposal being approved was big news, the new playoff process for football — which begins this fall — also was approved. In the section’s new playoff plan, the football playoffs will expand from 58 teams to 78, but from seven divisions to six. The current process of selecting two and three teams from each league will remain, but there will be added “at-large teams” to fill out 16-team brackets. The playoff system for football was revamped to mainly fix a process that some years had the top teams meeting before the championship game and deserving schools being left out of the playoffs If used last season, all schools in the section except three that had five or more wins would have qualified for the postseason. The one key factor that Division II-sized schools in the SFL may have to deal with is that depending on enrollment, schools such has St. Mary’s of Stockton and Pleasant Grove could be placed in that playoff bracket. On the other hand, state champion Grant, which has an enrollment that goes up and down, may in some years be placed in Division I. Followers of the Pioneer Valley League will also have to take time to get used to a new league make-up. Whitney, a member of the PVL in its first three years of existence, will depart after next school year along with Mesa Verde. The Wildcats, who won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV football championship last fall in only its third year of playing varsity football, will move to the Capital Athletic League while Mesa Verde moves to the Division V Golden Empire League. Replacing the Wildcats and Mavericks in the PVL will be Foothill and Center, two schools from the north area of Sacramento that have competed in the Capital Valley Conference for years. However, while CIF Sac-Joaquin Commissioner Pete Saco called this realignment process “one of the smoothest we’ve had,” one of the more controversial changes in the new format was the PVL moving from Division IV to Division III for playoffs. In the new format, the PVL, currently a Division IV league, will now be in Division III for playoffs in all sports except football, basketball and volleyball, sports that are currently enrollment-based. That will put PVL schools such as Colfax, Bear River and Placer in the postseason for sports, such as soccer, softball and baseball, against the Capital Athletic League (i.e. Cordova, Rio Americano, El Camino, Whitney); the Solano County Athletic League (i.e. Vallejo, Hogan, Benicia, Vanden; and the Tri-County Conference (i.e. Yuba City, Woodland, Inderkum). A bone of contention in placing the PVL as a Division III league was that the Valley Oak League, a league with schools such has Manteca, Oakdale and Sierra all with enrollments approaching 1,600, was placed as a Division IV league for playoffs. The north part of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s lone Division IV league is now the Sierra Valley Conference, which will consist of El Dorado, Galt, Union Mine, Vista Del Lago, River City, Union Mine, Cosumnes Oaks and Liberty Ranch, a new school in Galt.