Cardinal Newman football coach Paul Cronin confirmed this week this his team will drop down to Division 4 for the 2015 North Coast Sections playoffs. It may sound like a mere bookkeeping matter, but the move could have big implications for the balance of power in the NCS postseason.
“We have 520 students in school,” said coach Roy Perkins of Fort Bragg, a Division 4 program, “and now we’re going to have to compete with a Cardinal Newman in the playoffs? What’s the plan?”
The North Coast Section bases its athletic divisions purely on enrollment. There are five divisions for football, each of them currently composed of 20-23 schools. The caveat is that schools may petition to move up to a higher division, presumably to find a more challenging bracket.
Cardinal Newman, with an official enrollment number of 609, qualifies for Division 4. But the Cardinals have consistently petitioned up. They played in Division 2 in 2008 and 2009, the first years of the current section playoff structure, and have competed in Division 3 since then, against the likes of Marin Catholic, Campolindo and El Cerrito.
Now Cardinal Newman is revoking its petition, which schools are free to do under NCS rules. To Cronin, it’s a matter of simplicity and equity, especially when he looks beyond the section playoffs to possible CIF state championships.
“The rules (on divisions) change,” Cronin said. “They’re all over the place. So you don’t know from year to year what’s gonna happen. So we basically said, OK, right now what’s our enrollment? OK, we’re about 600. And there’s schools like Justin-Siena that are a hundred more than us, schools already in (Division 4).
“So why not go to where everybody should be and just play it out and advance as far as you can, as opposed to continue to petition up and be in a division you’re not supposed to be in?”
Cronin said he and Cardinal Newman principal Graham Rutherford collaborated on the decision.
The coach said he believes his school won’t be the only one to revert to its proper slotting this year. Indeed, there are rumors that Marin Catholic, another program that has played up in Division 3, will join the Cardinals in D4 this year. Marin Catholic athletic director Adam Callan said the school hasn’t made that determination yet. The deadline for filing paperwork is Sept. 18.
Though no one questions Newman’s right to move down, the decision does not sit well with some of the coaches of Division 4, a collection that currently includes Fort Bragg, St. Helena, Healdsburg, Lower Lake, Kelseyville, El Molino and Elsie Allen among Redwood Empire schools.
“They’re just doing what they’re allowed to do,” Perkins said. “But they’ve never played Division 4 before and now they’re doing it? Why? I think it goes a bit against what they’ve always stood for. Why are they playing teams like St. Mary’s (of Stockton) and Clayton Valley Charter in the preseason, and then they come and play Kelseyville in the playoffs, or us? What’s the point of that? Is that challenging their kids?”
Mostly, though, opposing coaches question the system that makes it possible. Perkins believes Division 4 is too broad, with its enrollment range of 501 to 1,100. St. Helena coach Brandon Farrell agrees.
“When I got here, Division 4 was like 450 to 750,” he said. “To think the high end of that can go up 350 kids doesn’t make a lot of sense in just eight years’ time.”