As commissioner of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section since 1993, Saco knows a lot about how things work in the CIF and he's seen many proposals on many fronts come and go. He therefore crafted a state football championship plan that he felt would have the best chances of actually getting approved by the CIF State Federated Council.
"You've got to have buy-in from the whole state," Saco said during a recent interview with CalHiSports.com at his office in Lodi. "That's why at the start it should be the best from the north and the south. That's why you have to have small schools involved."
This week, Saco will present his proposal to the CIF Events Committee, which will evaluate it compared to a previously adopted series of policy and procedures for new CIF state-level events. It's expected to pass that hurdle, which then will likely enable Saco to make a first reading proposal before the CIF State Federated Council on October 31. In between, input from the CIF Executive Committee and other section commissioners will be obtained. After the first reading, unless it is delayed for some reason, the proposal heads back to the various managing boards of the 10 sections of the CIF. It would be voted on by the Federated Council during its February or May meeting, but the outcome by then would be well known as most managing boards vote internally and give voting instructions to their representatives at the state level.
If passed, the CIF state football championships would be held on December 18, 2004. It would be the first CIF state football tinal since 1927 when Bakersfield defeated Fullerton, 38-0.
In 1997, a plan that would have created a series of bowl games involving various section champions was voted down by the CIF Federated Council. At the time, there was a feeling of the format only benefitting the big-time programs, a feeling that the management of several sites at the same time would be too difficult, and a feeling that such a series wouldn't draw enough fans to enough of the games for it to be profitable.
Saco's section was one of those that supported the previous plan. He didn't start thinking about it again until the 2001 football season when the interest and turnout for a preseason matchup between De La Salle of Concord and Poly of Long Beach, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation at the time, was so strong. It began to dawn on Saco, and on many others within the framework of the CIF, that an opportunity for the State CIF to benefit from such a matchup, if if were held at the end of the season instead, might be invaluable.
"The State CIF office is the only one of its kind in the state that does not benefit from football playoff income," Saco said. "That's been a real problem for many years."
In the Sac-Joaquin Section last year alone, figures provided by Saco showed that the section was able to net $275,000 profit from its football playoffs, easily more than even basketball, which has state playoffs. In fact, much of the expenses the section pays to conduct playoffs in other sports is taken from football playoff revenue.
This might lead some to conclude that the State CIF's problem would be to simply create a state football playoff system. Many fictional matchups and formats have been debated, including more than a few over the years through this web site and accompanying newsletter.
"That would just never happen," Saco said of such ideas. "Schools that are currently playing a 10-game regular season are not going to give up one of their games to support a playoff system. And none of the sections are going to give up one of their (rounds of ) games. That means you'd have to have an extra four weeks of games to decide state championships and that would be ridiculous."
After the policy and proceedures guidelines for new events was passed by the CIF, Saco sat down at his computer and came to realize that the only event he could think of that would meet all criteria within those guidelines was a state football championship.
"I know people have talked about baseball and softball, but those would be very difficult for any state playoffs because of the calendar," Saco said. "A lot of schools in the north graduate at the end of May and a lot of schools in the south graduate two or three weeks later. Plus, it's doubtful whether state playoffs in any of those sports would make any money."
Under the proposal, a small school game would be played between opposing schools with CBED enrollments (grade 10-12) from 0 to 1200. The large school game would be between schools with enrollments from 1201 and above.
The only site specifically mentioned within the proposal is Edison International Field in Anaheim. Saco and others behind the plan think the weather in Northern California is too unpredictable at that time of the year. Southern California weather in mid-December, however, can almost be hard to believe.
As to which teams would be selected to play in both games, Saco is leaving that open for the State CIF to determine, once the proposal is actually passed. He says one option might be for a committee to run the selection process, aided by a panel of select media members. The major concern in any selection process is to have schools be notified as soon as possible after the end of their section playoff that they are being considered to be one of the teams. Also, only schools that win section championships are eligible. Section title game losers are out, no matter who the loss is to.
Other than the games being one school from the north vs. one from the south, the only other specific criteria for which schools might play is that the north will be considered to be the Central Coast Section, North Coast Section, Northern Section, Oakland Section, San Francisco Section and Sac Joaquin Section. The south would be the Central, Los Angeles, San Diego and Southern sections.
Saco knows his plan might not be palatable to some for the following reasons:
1. The so-called small school game actually could turn out to be two powerhouse Catholic schools with lower enrollments playing each other, like Palma of Salinas or Valley Christian of San Jose vs. St. Bonaventure of Ventura.
2. With the Central Section in the south and not in the north, its chances for having one of its schools in one of the games goes way down. Putting the Central Section in the south for now was simply to keep it in line with the way the state is divided in basketball and volleyball, even though it makes more sense to put the Central Section in the north. Even with the Central Section in the north, the number of schools in the south is much higher.
3. A north-south final might not constitute a true state final. As long as mighty De La Salle is rolling along in the north, all is fine. But last year, for example, if De La Salle had lost, the top two teams in the state would have been Orange County rivals Los Alamitos and Mission Viejo, which were unbeaten and won different divisional titles within the Southern Section. Imagine the mess that would have occurred if Los Al and Mission Viejo weren't playing each other and instead one of the two was playing Jesuit of Carmichael.
4. What about gender equity? We're talking football here, a major boys sport. Saco hints that the State CIF might be currently out of compliance on the girls side with the recent addition of exhibition girls wrestling to the CIF state wrestling finals. In the proposal, he says it "would be a question for the CIF Legal Counsel."
In looking over the previous proposal in 1997 that lost, it's obvious that the key to the entire success or failure of Saco's proposal will be support of the Southern Section. Would that section be open to the appearance of its own Division I title game, which is now often played at Edison International Field before large crowds, being considered as something of a stepping stone to a bigger pond?
"I took it to our own Board of Managers and asked them not to vote in favor of it or against it, but to just see what happens, to let it run its course," Saco said. "Once and if they get it, our own board might not be in favor of it."
Despite all those possible snags, Saco looks at his plan as one that can be the start of something big.
"The idea is to get something workable that can pass," Saco said. "We've got to stop talking about adding events like this and do something about it.
"The curiosity has been raised and if people are willing to take a look at it, we've got a chance. It can be tweaked by the State CIF once its passed. There's room for that and I clearly understand that."
And if the CIF State Federated Council votes in the affirmative in February, what would be next for Saco?
"Nothing," he said. "I'd be done with what I set out to do. After that, it'll become part of the State CIF. I'm more than happy to hand it all over to them."