LONG BEACH — On a morning in which the St. Francis High football team could have been moved into one of two different leagues and what most consider up three divisions, the Golden Knights instead found their position within the Mission League not only settled for the next four years, but significantly bolstered thanks in large part to rival Los Angeles Cathedral High.
The Phantoms appealed their placement within one of two four-team leagues set to participate in the Pac-5 Division, or the top division within the CIF Southern Section, proposed by the Catholic Athletic Assn. at a regular meeting of the Southern Section Council at The Grand Ballroom in Long Beach on Wednesday morning and won their right to stay within a Mission League that also included St. Francis.
“We appreciate the way Cathedral handled this and we were in agreement that neither team should be playing in Division I,” St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. “That was our argument and we’re both happy we’re able to stay. There aren’t eight teams that should be playing in Division I, there’s only seven and we’re happy with the outcome.”
The CAA voted April 22 that Cathedral, a member of the Mission League along with St. Francis, would move up from the Mission League and Western Division (seen by most as Division IV) to the newly formed Pac-5 Division South Catholic League along with Bishop Amat, Loyola and Gardena Serra. The northern league squads would have consisted of Alemany, Chaminade, Crespi and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
Mission League stalwarts Serra and Chaminade finished first and second in league, respectively, and met in the Western Division title game in December for the second consecutive season. While both looked forward to the jump to the highest division, Cathedral did not.
Cathedral Principal Brother John Montgomery officially appealed to Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod in a letter on April 23. The correspondence was made available along with a Cathedral football fact sheet to all voting members present at the meeting.
“This is all about equity and what’s fair,” Montgomery said. “We don’t belong in the top division in the Southern Section and don’t believe we can compete. We would have been crushed for four years.”
Yet, it was expected that part of Montgomery’s appeal would be to swap Cathedral with St. Francis, which has defeated the Phantoms three of the last four years and was coming off a 2013 campaign in which the Golden Knights finished 10-3, took third in the Mission League and advanced to the divisional semifinals.
Montgomery, however, did not ask for a switch, but rather offered a counterproposal for a seven-team Pac-5 league (which still needs to be named) that would consist of Alemany, Bishop Amat, Chaminade, Crespi, Serra, Loyola and Notre Dame and a six-team Mission League that would retain Cathedral, Harvard-Westlake, St. Francis and St. Paul and would welcome Salesian and La Salle.
Cathedral‘s appeal was officially passed with 46 yeas, 16 nays and 12 abstentions, which sealed the league seedings for the next four years.
“This was very important for our school,” said St. Francis Athletic Director Matt Luderer, who was joined at the meeting by Bonds and principal Tom Moran. “Our contention all along was that there was not an eighth team to compete at the [Division I] level.
“The seven schools at the top wanted an eighth team for a playoff spot. We did not feel that a playoff spot was justification enough for a team to go up that could not compete at that level.”
Initially, the CAA passed a Pac-5 two-league proposal that included Salesian, the reigning Northeast Division (Division XIII) champion, on March 27.
However, the Mustangs successfully appealed the decision and won a 13-3-3 vote, which led to Cathedral being placed in Salesian’s spot.
Throughout the process, the CAA kept an eight-team configuration to guarantee at least four playoff positions. With only one seven-team league, the new league will only have three automatic spots with the potential for an at-large berth.
That revelation did not sit well with quite a few members, including Serra Athletic Director Chris Dunlap.
“We feel like what we decided in the CAA should stand,” Dunlap said. “We decided that three times. Every time we met to have releaguing, we had a two-league structure at the top. This is really unfortunate that we had other people deciding against what we wanted and what we had decided. It’s really baffling.”
Since the CAA had no additional proposals submitted before the meeting, Cathedral’s appeal was all that was voted on.
“I believe and our executive committee leadership believes that we followed the steps and the process as we needed to do,” Wigod said. “At the end of the day, who speaks? Our council speaks. Not the office, not anybody else, it’s the council who speaks.”
After Cathedral’s proposal was submitted, a couple of members frantically tried to rally against the appeal before a vote was taken.
Notre Dame football Coach Kevin Rooney, who was speaking in place of Mission League representative Kathy Vercillo of Louisville, was joined in protest at the podium by Dunlap, who was afforded the chance to speak by Del Rey League representative Anthony Harris of La Salle.
Those parties stood against the seven-team proposal by Cathedral, which could have easily asked to have its place swapped by St. Francis and thus banish arguably next year’s Mission League favorite into the Pac-5 for at least four years.
Had such a plan been in place, St. Francis would have only been able to make an immediate appeal at the meeting and would have not had the luxury of a counterproposal since a leaguing decision needed to be made by April 30.
Cathedral also had to reconcile its own long-held position of refusing to join a league with nearby heated rival Salesian.
“Hey, I didn’t say it was the brightest move and I’m not sure my football coach would agree with me,” Montgomery quipped, “but it was the right move. It would have only been self-serving to send St. Francis into a division that it couldn’t compete in. This was about honor and equity.
“I might not be invited to a lot of parties in the future, but this was the best move.”
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.