By Ray Hamill — It appears as if St. Bernard’s will have to play football in the Big 4 again next year after an appeal to the North Coast Section has been denied.
The Crusaders were moved up to the Big 4 two years ago after dominating for years in the Little 4, a decision the H-DNL says was based on competitive equity.
Late last year the league ratified the decision for two more seasons, resulting in the school lodging an appeal with the North Coast Section.
The appeal, however, has been denied by the NCS Alignment Committee, a decision that is on the agenda to be presented at the section Board of Managers meeting later this month.
In addition, it appears as if the Crusaders will also now move up to Division 5 for the NCS playoffs next season after winning the D-6 section title last season on their way to a state championship.
The new divisions, which would see St. Bernard’s play in the same bracket as Eureka, Fortuna and Del Norte, are also on the agenda for approval at this month’s meeting.
St. Bernard’s is the only local school slated to switch divisions this year.
The Crusaders were originally included in Division 5 last year but won an appeal in the spring and were moved back down to D-6.
This year, however, the timing couldn’t be worse for the program, which will lose several highly-influential seniors, including a trio who combined to lead the section in 2019 in offensive yards, receiving yards and tackles.
SB is projected to have just two contributing seniors on the roster next year.
Numbers continue to be a concern for the program, which has been unable to field a JV team for the past two seasons, and there are no youth football players currently in the school’s eighth-grade class.
The appeal against the H-DNL decision was lodged on the grounds of “player safety, breadth of program, failure to forward key information from the NCS commissioner, and concern over the use of competitive equity points to generate placement in a conference — a process not used for any other sport in the H-DNL.”
The appeal was denied by the Alignment Committee at a hearing on February 11.
According to the St. Bernard’s appeal, the Crusaders are being “forced to play Division-5 football programs that are 100 percent larger than St. Bernard’s.
“The process was adopted one week after St. Bernard’s had to use five freshmen to finish a Big 4 football game against a much larger Fortuna High football team after five of our players were injured with two sent to hospital.”
The appeal also argued “competitive equity in the playoffs is important, but looking back at St. Bernard’s success will not help our nine upperclassmen and six underclassmen (plus incoming freshmen) compete in the Big 4 in a safe manner in 2020.”
The Crusaders have won 31 straight games against Little 4 schools, a streak dating back to 2013, and many of their wins have come in blowouts.
They are 2-4 in the Big 4 over the past two season.