Benefield: North Bay League will have to decide this year whether to tinker with divisions
To tinker or not to tinker, that is the question.
After months of talks and negotiations determined which schools competed against each other and in which sports in the new-look North Bay League last year, all of those puzzle pieces are up for renegotiation and a new round of debate heading into 2019-20.
“It was huge,” NBL Commissioner Jan Smith Billing said of the creation of the 12-school so-called super league prior to the 2018-19 school year. “I think we did a good job.”
But from the beginning, this was a structure that was meant to be played with.
So now they get to do it again. Well, not all over again. But every placement in every sport will get a look as each season concludes this year.
In the fall, that means meeting with coaches, athletic directors and principals about the divisional placement of teams playing football, cross country, volleyball, girls golf and girls tennis.
Will teams that finished at the top of the Redwood Division automatically get bumped up to the stronger Oak Division? What if two teams merit a promotion? And what does that mean for teams that were at the bottom of the Oak Division?
This will be a year of scores of conversations about who belongs where and why. And the why part is crucial, Smith Billing said.
“I want it justified, not ‘I want this. Period,’” she said.
A quick refresher for what has changed in the last year. It’s a lot.
In 2017, the North Coast Section accepted three new schools (Napa, Vintage and American Canyon), additions that threatened to throw out of balance the competition schedules of NCS leagues, including the Sonoma County League and North Bay League.
After months of discussion, it was decided to disband the SCL and that Petaluma, Casa Grande and Sonoma Valley would move to form the new Vine Valley Athletic League and compete with American Canyon, Justin-Siena, Napa and Vintage. Other area schools — Analy, Cardinal Newman, El Molino, Elsie Allen, Healdsburg, Maria Carrillo, Montgomery, Piner, Rancho Cotate, Santa Rosa, Ukiah and Windsor — would combine to join an enlarged, 12-team NBL that would be broken into two divisions. The stronger teams in each sport were put in the Oak Division, the weaker teams in the Redwood Division. Champions in each division would earn a trip to the NCS playoffs as well as be given a pennant.
Every two years, those assignments would be reassessed. We are now on the eve of those discussions.
What teams do over the next few months will help determine where they are placed and who they will face next season. And it will all involve debate. Starting with the coaches.
The plan is this: Smith Billing will meet, as she always has, with all coaches at the close of the season. But this time around, a main topic of discussion, debate and conference will be the issue of relegation and promotion.
Should Santa Rosa and Rancho Cotate girls soccer move up? Should Cardinal Newman girls softball be elevated? And if those squads move up, who moves down?
Smith Billing will craft a form for all coaches to fill out. She’ll want to know about their team but also their opinion on other teams.