I have heard some grumbling about the long trips Central Coast high school sports teams must make during the playoffs.
During a spell this summer, I wondered if there was a way that the CIF Southern Section powers-that-be could cut down significantly on those looong post-season treks some of its teams make.
After some semi-exhaustive map reading, I came to a conclusion.
If they can, it's a mystery to me how they would do it.
The crux of the problem is, of course, that the Southern Section covers a huge area, there are 576 member schools and the section's population is wildly disparate.
The section extends north beyond San Bernardino County, the largest county in the contiguous United States, and into Inyo County.
The vast majority of schools in this huge geographic area are in three geographic spots; the Los Angeles-to-Santa Ana corridor between Interstates 405 and 5, the Inland Empire and the San Gabriel Valley.
Texas is a wide state that has a significant school population in all four quadrants. Some of the New England states have a sizeable school population and a small geographic area.
California doesn't have anything like those luxuries. It's a long, relatively thin state with a vastly disparate school population. And its biggest section by far - the Southern Section - has a particularly uneven school population.
What about splitting the regions into quadrants?, I thought. Nope. Not enough schools in the would-be northeast quadrant to make it work.
A northern and a southern region? I think that would involve pushing the southernmost boundary of the would-be northern region so far south to make the population of both halves fairly equal that it would be unfair to the southern-most schools in the north.
Regionalizing the early rounds of the playoffs - Central Coast schools vs. Central Coast schools, eastern desert schools vs. eastern desert schools, etc. - is a possibility, I think.
But at some point, a very long bus ride for someone in the more sparsely populated areas of the Southern Section is inevitable.
My colleague, Brad Memberto, suggested in a column making some of the sections more geographically correct, that is moving some of the northernmost Southern Section schools to the Central Section. I think that's a good idea, but it would eliminate only a small part of the problem.
I do think there should always be an extra day between the wild card round and the first round of the playoffs. That would eliminate long road trips on consecutive days and ease the load on those driving team vans.
Joining the Central Section is an alternative for which, for good reason I think, I have heard no enthusiasm whatsoever from Central Coast school officials. Trips to the Bakersfield and Fresno areas, where the vast majority of Central Section schools are located, aren't much of an improvement from the deal Central Coast schools get now.
Besides, the competition level in the Southern Section is generally higher than it is in the Central Section.
I think an attempt by Central Coast schools to create a new section would flounder because of the following:
1. It would cost too much money.
2. It would cost too much money.
3. It would cost too much money.
A Central Coast team spending most of its playoff time making long road trips and then winning a sectional championship isn't exactly unheard of. The 2006 Valley Christian Academy girls basketball team did it. So did the 2013 Righetti girls softball team.
The 2014 Santa Ynez boys tennis team won a semifinal match on the road and then took the divisional title. The Pirates had a much longer trip to get to the Claremont Club, site of the title match, than Redlands, the team it defeated in a nailbiter - the final set score was 10-8, but one game separated the Pirates and Terriers, most suspenseful title event I've ever covered - did.
My opinion of the traveling situation involved with the Southern Section playoffs matches my opinion of the "Road to State," for Southern Section track and field athletes.
The system isn't perfect, but trying to "fix" it would likely make it worse.