There will soon be a soccer shakeup in the Sac-Joaquin Section. After years of failed proposals to take boys and girls soccer out of their respective fall and spring seasons, the SJS board recently approved moving both boys and girls soccer to the winter season and align its schedule with the California Interscholastic Federation’s official season of sport for soccer.
The approved proposal, one of the closest votes at a SJS board meeting according to its Director of Communications Will DeBoard, will take effect in the 2016-17 school year and it is expected to result in a slew of changes for SJS schools, both good and bad.
“This was a long, thought out, heavily discussed item. And it has been for years,” DeBoard said. “We knew it was going to be a super slim margin.”
The proposal to move soccer to the winter season was first introduced by the Central California Conference roughly three years ago, namely by former Merced High Athletic Director and current Livingston High Athletic Director Scott Winton.
“The main reason it was proposed was because of the lack of facilities; we were all just really crunched for facilities,” Turlock High Athletic Director Anthony Belew said. “Dealing around football is huge, especially with the stadium where we’ve got two teams playing, and you’ve got practice times to deal with as well.”
Once the change goes into effect, schools like Turlock will go from having seven different sports teams in both fall and spring and only three sports teams in the winter to a more even lineup of five sports teams in each season. The end result will be more field availability for both practices and games since boys soccer will no longer have to contend with football and girls soccer will no longer have to contend with track.
“It’s just going to be convenient having fields available,” Belew said.
The change will also affect competitiveness levels around the section in several ways. With the fall open to boys’ soccer players, opportunities to play football or run cross country are now viable options. Likewise, girls’ soccer players will be able to add track and field or softball to their athletic endeavors.
“I think it’s really going to help out the spring sports,” Belew said. “I see it more as an opportunity for the girls… it creates opportunities because soccer girls are the best middle-distance runners and sprinters. That’s going to give them opportunities for track, and we all know soccer girls are tough, so that’s going to give them the opportunity to play softball.”
“You only have a finite number of athletes who get spread thin,” DeBoard said about the current fall and spring seasons.
But while soccer players will be afforded the opportunity to play other sports, some will also be put in a position to choose between soccer and basketball under the new schedule.
“There’s going to be winners and there’s going to be losers,” DeBoard said. “If you are a basketball coach, you just got another sport for each gender, boys and girls, coming into your season.”
Soccer players will also be forced to choose between playing for their high school teams or their travel club teams. Currently and in years past, SJS soccer players were exempt from rule 600 of the CIF constitution which prohibits high school athletes who are participating in a high school sport during the official season of sport from playing for another team of the same sport. Because the SJS held its soccer seasons outside of the official season of sport for soccer, players have been able to juggle both club and high school soccer.
“This is a rule that has never affected us before, it’s going to affect us now,” DeBoard said. “You can practice with your club team all you want, but when it comes to games you can’t do both.”
“There will definitely be some kids choosing club,” he added. “There’s a reason it was 31-23.”
But while the future move to the winter season may be a burden to basketball and travel club coaches, the biggest positive to the change, according to DeBoard, is that it’s the first step towards establishing regional championships that mirror those of Southern California and, looking even further, making an overall state championship possible.
“There’s never been able to be a state championship, or any sort of regional championship because not enough sections play (soccer) during the winter,” DeBoard said. “Now that we’re in winter, I firmly believe that the CIF state office is going to be taking a lot of steps towards having regional championships, at the minimum, and maybe even state championships.”
Regional and state championships will not be immediate results, however, as other sections like the Oakland Section, North Coast Section and Northern Section have yet to vote to move their soccer seasons to winter.
“It is varied, and that really has been a massive roadblock to having any sort of state championships,” DeBoard said.
One of the biggest concerns raised about the move is the change in weather with most pointing to elevated levels of rain compared to the fall or spring seasons. Though the change in weather conditions is sure to be an issue for schools above the snow line in the more northern parts of California, local schools are less likely to notice a considerable difference when it comes to competition.
“Most of us now in our league, a lot of the schools, have the all-weather turf and have the fields that can be played on in the rain. Now we can really utilize our facilities,” Belew said.
“It seemed like the CCC was pretty unanimous in wanting to make that move,” DeBoard said. “I think, honestly, some of it has to do with the fact that there are more schools out there with artificial turf fields, and they’re more able to have two soccer teams playing at the same time in the same season.”