Ever since his storied football program joined the Sunset League six years ago, Coach Jeff Brinkley continually pointed out that Newport Harbor High was the smallest public school in the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs.
Brinkley might not be able to use that line anymore.
Under the CIF Southern Section proposed playoff groupings for the 2012-14 seasons, the Sunset League will leave the Pac-5 Division and move to the Southwest Division. Brinkley, like many others, considers the Pac-5 Division to be the toughest playoff format in the state.
Brinkley said he has enjoyed competing at the highest level, but he's in favor of the Sunset League joining the Southwest Division, which is regarded as Division VI. He has good reason to support it.
The Sailors were successful when they played in Division VI from 1999 to 2005. During that stretch, they reached the section finals four times, winning it twice.
"For our enrollment [of around 2,400 students], it's on the level with other schools in that division and it will make it more equitable," said Brinkley of the Southwest Division, which is home to the Century, Empire, Freeway and Sea View leagues.
Replacing the Sunset League in the Pac-5 Division is the 10-team Marmonte League, which features powerhouse programs like Westlake Village Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure
Brinkley also said his program wouldn't object to staying in the Pac-5 Division.
"We're going to line up and play wherever they put us," said Brinkley, who expects leagues in the Southwest Division to appeal the changes, which the section will hear on March 27, because the Sunset League is strong.
The Sunset League has Edison, the defending champion, Los Alamitos, Newport Harbor, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Marina.
With the Sunset League being a part of the Pac-5 Division with the Trinity, South Coast, Serra and Moore leagues, it has affected the Sailors in the playoffs in recent seasons.
Only once out of four playoff appearances in the last six seasons have the Sailors won a first-round game in the Pac-5 Division. The 7-3 upset came at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in 2007.
In the past three seasons, Newport Harbor has made postseason appearances each time. But they have been short lived.
Last season, Newport Harbor lost in the opening round to juggernaut Long Beach Poly, 49-14, at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The 49 points are the most given up in a playoff game in Brinkley's 26 seasons with the Sailors.
In 2010, the Sailors fell at fourth-seeded Mission Hills Alemany, 27-7. In 2009, Newport Harbor lost at fourth-seeded Lakewood, 41-17.
"Long Beach Poly is as good of a program as there is in the country, and when we played Lakewood, [it] had one guy going to Notre Dame and two guys going to USC," Brinkley said. "Schools [from the Pac-5 Division] get people from all over. It's not that they recruit guys, but kids can go to those schools. Kids can't come to Newport Harbor unless they move into our area."
Brinkley said the Southwest Division, which Tustin won last season, has established programs like Tustin and La Habra.
Newport Harbor and Tustin met in the Division VI semifinals in 2005, with the Sailors recording a 28-0 shutout. They went on to claim their third section crown under Brinkley.
Brinkley said he could see his Sailors contending for section titles in the Southwest Division right away.