Leaks in league re-invention

MALACHI BEY starred for Garden Grove High in 2021 and 2022, winning the Big Four League, which is likely soon to be extinct (Orange County Tribune photo by Chris Abdelmalek).

“Ah, the old days gone forever,” said Victor McLaughlin in the 1949 John Wayne Western. “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.”

Just as the passing of the buffalo in the old Wild West signaled the end of an era, so does the influence of the “competitive equity” system in ranking high school football teams for the 2024 season.

According to Steve Fryer of The Orange County Register, it’s again time for releaging. The teams will be grouped based on how they did in the 2022 and 2023 seasons. With the last week’s games yet to be played, he did some math and came up what the “likely” shape-of-things to come: teams scattered all over without much regard for geographical cohesion or tradition.

For example, let’s look at the Garden Grove League which dates from 1966. Originally a “city” grouping consisting of schools in the Garden Grove Unified School District it appears to be on its way to a fate similar to that of the Pac-12 … or the Pac-2, as it now stands.

Under Fryer’s calculation, the GGUSD schools are now exploded across four leagues. The new league names are unknown,  but Garden Grove High, for example, would be in League H, along with Beckham (Irvine), Fullerton, Marina (Westminster) Valencia (Placentia) and Westminster. League K would be Anaheim, Bolsa Grande, Costa Mesa, La Quinta, Loara and Santiago. That’s four teams from this year’s GGL, but only three from the GGUSD.

League A would group Edison and Los Alamitos (western edge of the OC) against Mission Viejo and San Clemente (way down south), obliterating what used to be the Sunset League, one of the two county leagues over 100 years old.

It’s not just the trashing of tradition and distance that bothers me. The scheme of using two years of performance for ranking places too much emphasis on the influence of one or two athletes per school. A program does well with Biff McStarr in the lineup, but after he graduates it’s a whole different world in a whole different league. 

This may be a better system than back when principals and athletic directors used alchemy and – frankly – jealousy to redraw the groupings. But if true, it’s like the difference between a headache and a toothache. Both will pass eventually, but you won’t enjoy either.

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