In a move that will have a major impact on the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason landscape, the section will bump the Sierra Foothill League to Division I starting in 2012-2013.
The section's board of managers also decided on Wednesday to move girls basketball powerhouses Sacramento and St. Mary's of Stockton and the Modesto Christian boys into higher divisions next year.
The moves are part of an effort by Commissioner Pete Saco and the board of managers to try to even the playing field in the geographically large and diverse section that stretches from Merced to Yuba City.
The SFL traditionally has been a D-II league but its growing dominance of that division - it won 15 of 29 section titles in 2010-11 - forced the section's hand, say section officials.
The SFL is on pace to win two-thirds of the section sports titles this year, even though its just one of three D-II leagues.
The Solano County Athletic Conference, currently D-III, will move to D-II in place of the SFL. The league, which includes Benicia, Vanden and Vallejo, joins the Metro Conference and the Capital Valley Conference.
"It's become a focus for Pete the last five years and he has talked at league meetings and to athletic directors about the need to provide equal opportunities," section director of communications Will DeBoard told the Modesto Bee's Richard T. Estrada. "High school sports isn't just for winning championships. It has a lot to do with giving everyone a fair shake, as well as recognizing that dominating a division isn't a lot of fun for those programs, either."
According to Estrada, the SFL's promotion in the middle of a four-year realignment schedule generated debate at Wednesday's meeting, but from those interested in keeping the league out of D-I.
Just four of 27 leagues voted against the SFL's move: The Delta River and Delta Valley leagues joined the SFL in voting no. The DRL and DVC have enjoyed the most D-I success the last few years.
Those schools, primarily based in the Elk Grove area, now have to contend with the SFL, which has schools in Rocklin, Loomis, Granite Bay, Roseville and Grass Valley.
The other no vote came from the Solano County Athletic Conference, which preferred to remain at D-III.
Although it moves to D-I, not every Sierra Foothill League team will play at that level in the postseason.
Enrollment-based playoff sports such as football and basketball could find some SFL teams in D-II.
Del Oro in football will play at D-II - but no longer at D-III, where it won the last two section titles.
Under its rules, the section forbids a school from dropping more than one division in the playoffs: With the SFL in D-II, Del Oro could play D-III because its enrollment put it just under the cutoff point.
In another vote, the board decided that St. Mary's of Stockton and the Sacramento High girls basketball teams will move up one division to Division I and Division II, respectively.
The Sacramento girls have made nine consecutive D-III title appearances while St. Mary's has won six state titles since 2002 at D-II or D-III.
Modesto Christian's boys basketball program, which has dominated the small schools for a decade, now moves up to D-III, where it will play schools up to six times its size.
Bee photo by José Luis Villegas: Granite Bay's Arik Bird, left, and Tanner Huber of Del Oro meet in a Sierra Foothill League game last year.