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A Game Plan That Might Not Play Out : Idea for County’s Own CIF Section Tempts, Troubles

Timing may not be everything, but it certainly can have a lot to do with the success of any new venture. The county’s school superintendents will consider a plan this month that could have their 72 high schools going it alone in their own California Interscholastic Federation athletic section. They are expected to vote in favor of it, but looking at the numbers, as one must do these days, the question is--why now?

It would be a huge development--schools representing more than 100,000 students whistling Dixie in a secession move from the sprawling Southern Section. It now has these Orange County districts marching to a tune they are not always comfortable with.

Interesting idea? You bet. But the timing may not be quite right in the current economic environment.

For starters, there’s a lot to be said for local control and for the fostering of a distinct regional identity that naturally would arise from an Orange County section. Players and fans, teachers and parents would no doubt relish the opportunity to avoid long trips for playoff games now routinely logged. An Orange County section would foster intra-county rivalries and match county favorites in playoff games that would draw big crowds. So all those things--local control of the action, local rivalries fostered and local interest generated--are certainly pluses.

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But the road to a separate Orange County section is a journey through the financial minefields of the times. At the bottom of the idea of having big rivalries is the bottom line in high school athletics, namely money. The argument for secession now goes that the problem of transportation cost and time consumed is so severe that it inevitably will divide the big section anyway.

But the dollars are not now on the side of secession. A feasibility study, analyzing pros and cons, suggests that dues now paid to the Southern Section would have to be raised from 23 cents to 35 cents a student. In return, county schools would receive less playoff revenue than they are now getting.

Under the current plan, the Southern Section splits 50% of the gate with participating schools. But under the floated plan, the county section would pocket 80% with 10% going to each of the participating schools. So we’re looking at a system where more dues are paid and less revenue is returned.

Then there’s the question mark of corporate support. It is estimated that an additional $50,000 would be expected from within the section, on top of money already received. This couldn’t be a more difficult time to be asking for corporate support for any such venture.

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One of the greatest temptations is to overestimate the dollars that will be there for any new venture. We know somewhat better in these tight times, when there are signs all around us that the unanticipated costs, or the overestimated revenue, can bite the best-laid plans.

That brings us to the cost of administrating such a section. The Southern Section, with its sprawling 485 schools, costs a whopping $70,000 to run. New bureaucracies have a way of piling on new bills. There would be equipment to purchase, space to rent or buy, a commissioner to pay for and some administrative support needed.

All of this at a time when the county is cutting back painfully on education services, when teaching positions are being dropped.

It’s good that the superintendents have this interesting idea. Nice to get free of those games in Ventura County and Antelope Valley. But it may be an idea whose time will not yet come until the financial picture improves. Go slow for now.

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