Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Sac State to host state football championships

The prevailing theme for Roger Blake is the “wow factor.”

The CIF executive director reminds that it is his job as the front man for the governing body for high school sports in California to provide student-athletes with memorable experiences in championship events, and that starts with the venue. What pops? What shocks the senses?

As Blake and his CIF crew sorted through 32 initial bids to host the CIF state football championships for the coming seasons, they came away with a collective “whoa” and “wow.” Sacramento State won the sweepstakes to host the next three state title football weekends, a fixture at the StubHub Center in Carson since the bowl concept started in 2006. Not only does Hornet Stadium offer a state-of-the-art facility with a sparkling résumé of success for U.S. Olympic Trials, NCAA championships and last summer’s USA Track and Field Championships through the Sacramento Sports Commission, the bid blew the CIF crew off its feet. In short, it was too affordable not to accept.

“We’ve got that wow factor, still, and we’re ecstatic,” Blake said Friday afternoon. “Sac State has that great field, the great facility, the locker rooms, the staff. And we’re going to save 80 percent ( compared to costs at the StubHub Center in Carson).”

Blake said the CIF can funnel those savings “right back into these events to make it even more of a wow factor.”

Added CIF associate director Ron Nocetti: “The Sacramento Sports Commission put together a bid that showed that they clearly wanted this. It’ll be nice for us to tell our member schools that before we sell a ticket, we’ll be able to break even.”

Blake said the CIF spent more than $120,000 this weekend for busing, lodging and meals for the 10 participating teams. For the 2013-14 academic year, the CIF sent $1.2 million back to its 10 sections that include 1,553 high schools throughout the state “to help those schools run high school sports at all levels.” So, no, the CIF doesn’t take in sacks of cash to pad a vault in its Sacramento offices. Money made goes right back into the “wow” process.

Sac State narrowly lost out on the CIF bowls in 2012 but vowed another strong effort. Steve Tebbs, Sac State’s director of athletic operations and facilities, met regularly with the CIF and the Sacramento Sports Commission. And Tebbs recalled that Sac State had a head start of sorts in this football race, having hosted Sac-Joaquin Section championship football events since 2010, in addition to the 2012, 2013 and 2014 NorCal title games.

“We have an awesome facility, we’re prepared, and we have a great relationship with the CIF,” Tebbs said.

Added Blake, “If Sac State can handle the USA Track and Field Championships, they can handle this. We’ve seen Sac State host events, and it’s a well-oiled machine.”

The other finalists were the StubHub Center, the Los Angeles Coliseum and Avaya Stadium, the new San Jose home of the Earthquakes in Major League Soccer.

Understanding bids – Blake and Nocetti said the CIF has attempted to balance football and basketball championships evenly between Northern California with Southern California venues, but it ultimately comes down to the best deals.

The reason the NorCal and state basketball finals have been held at Sleep Train Arena for the better part of 25 years? Exceptional bids, Blake and Nocetti said.

The same goes for state football in Carson.

“It’s a business,” Blake said, insisting that the CIF isn’t in the business of losing tons of money. “We’ve tried getting state basketball in Southern California, but the bids weren’t price-effective.”

Football playoff expansion? – CIF member schools will vote on a proposed revision of NorCal and SoCal Regional and State title games.

The idea is that every section champion in the state would advance to a regional game. Of the 51 schools in the state that won section titles in seven divisions this season, only 18 went to NorCal or SoCal Regional title games, as voted by section commissioners based on criteria including strength of schedule, state rankings and history of success.

Blake and Nocetti hope the measure passes, meaning more divisions, more excitement.

“We have all of these section champions that didn’t move on, and they’re wondering, ‘Why not us?’” Blake said. “It’s a very good question. I think it can be very exciting.”

If the proposal passes, Sac State will host the top five divisions, with the smaller divisions likely at home venues so those schools can keep concession and parking revenue.