By Joe Davidson
The high school football playoffs, already a must-see experience in this state, is about to take it a step further - and better.
Friday, the California Interscholastic Federation Federated Council and the state's member sections voted in Milpitas to introduce a Regional Championship game beginning in the 2012 season.
In short, CIF State Bowl teams will be decided on the field and not in a meeting room with stacks of papers, schedules, results and opinions. A Regional game will in effect be a Northern California or Southern California championship showdown of section winners.
As it stands now, section champions are eligible for state consideration and land one of the coveted games in Carson through section voting, which always leads to debate and sometimes controversy.
The State Bowl formula was hatched by Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Pete Saco in 2006. He also pushed for the Regional addition as a way to better enhance the football product in general. The State concept debuted in 2007. In 2008, the Open game was introduced to go with title games in Division I, II, III and IV. The first Open contest featured the milestone breakthrough for the Sacramento region in general when Grant defeated national No. 2 Long Beach Poly.
In 2009, short-handed Rocklin took a 14-0 record to Carson and pushed national No. 3 Servite of Anaheim to the brink, losing on a last-second field goal. This past fall, Folsom capped a 14-1 season with a rout of national power Serra of Gardena in the mud and muck as quarterback Dano Graves cemented his national player of the year honor.
Starting in 2012, NorCal Regional games could include Grant vs. De La Salle - or any Sacramento-area team against the Spartans of Concord, for that matter.
On Friday, seven state sections voted in favor of the state expansion. Those opposing it were the North Coast Section, the Southern Section and the San Diego Section. It's curious to note that De La Salle - the most storied team in the state - resides in the North Coast Section and has dominated that region for more than 25 years.
Though no one will go on the record, it has widely been thought that the NCS has been against a Regional game because that section likes its chances of the state section votes to land a State Bowl more than playing it out on the field.
Come 2012, it'll be decided on the field.
The one concern about a state playoff was this: How many games are too many? Considering that California is the only state in the union that doesn't have a full playoff format, this is remarkable progress. Imagine the crowds that would attend these Regional games.
For years, California had regular seasons only. Playoffs in the Sac-Joaquin Section didn't start until the early 1970s.
Note: One rule change that will go into affect this fall is handling routs. If a team is ahead by 35 points or more, there will be a running clock. What's more, if a game has a 35-point margin at the half, coaches from both sides can agree to a running clock for the third quarter.