Sports

Private schools, Southern Section set to begin arbitration

ColumnSportsTravelTri-Valley CorporationCalifornia Interscholastic Federation

Lights, camera, action! It's time for some arbitration hardball.

Attorneys representing four private schools and the CIF Southern Section will gather Tuesday and Wednesday to present their arguments as part of a binding arbitration hearing to determine whether Ventura St. Bonaventure, Westlake Village Oaks Christian, La Verne Damien and Glendora St. Lucy's will have to switch sports leagues in the fall.

It's similar to one of those Major League Baseball arbitration hearings, in which the team and the player each submit a contract figure and the arbitrator chooses one. In this case, each school will present its arguments, the Southern Section will present its response and the arbitrator will make a decision within a week.

The parties agreed to this process as part of a settlement to dismiss a federal lawsuit the schools filed last June. The suit was filed after the schools lost a final appeal trying to reverse the decision of Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod forcing them to join leagues composed exclusively of private schools.

The arbitrator will make four decisions based on four arguments.

Of the four, St. Bonaventure seems to have the strongest case.

St. Bonaventure is the one school that probably will suffer irreparable damage if it is forced from its current membership in the Marmonte League for football and the Tri-Valley Athletic Assn. for other sports. The costs for additional travel and the burdens placed on students and families in time commitments are much more than an inconvenience. It's a game changer that could adversely affect the school's future.

Imagine what midweek travel would be like going from Ventura to Rosemead, La Puente, La Verne, Montebello or Pasadena as part of joining the Camino Del Rey Assn. for all sports but football.

St. Bonaventure is in this predicament because its powerful football program has surpassed virtually every other team on campus. Those other teams would become sacrificial lambs, sent on vans navigating jammed Southern California freeways.

It's a ridiculous proposition, but Wigod had little choice, because other schools in Ventura County had grown frustrated with annual lopsided losses in football. A span years ago when St. Bonaventure routinely ran up the score against neighboring public school teams made matters worse.

Most surprising was the failure of the appeals panel to recognize St. Bonaventure's plight. One reason for the lawsuit was the belief that the Seraphs didn't receive due process, because members of the appeals panel were primarily from public schools.

As for the other three schools, their increase in travel is problematic but not anything near the potential harm St. Bonaventure is facing.

If any school wins its hearing, the leagues affected would have to come up with new leagues in an expedited manner. Football playoff divisions are scheduled to be released March 16, which could complicate matters.

Of course, if the Southern Section wins all four arbitration decisions, no changes will be needed. That would be an impressive achievement after all the rancor and money spent on attorneys.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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