Punting on competitive equity

Football will be the first sport to gauge whether the Sac-Joaquin Section’s latest realignment will serve its intended purpose of fostering competitive equity. There is little chance of that in the Monticello Empire League even though Fairfield and Armijo are going to the Greater Sacramento League. They will not be missed.

Well, they will be because Vacaville and Vanden will miss having two easy victories each season. The three schools joining the MEL – River City of West Sacramento, Pioneer of Woodland and Sacramento – will stand as much of a chance as Fairfield and Armijo did in trying to contend for the championship. And that would be none.

Armijo finished 1-4 in 2023 with its only victory coming against 0-5 Will C. Wood, which also accounted for one of Fairfield’s two MEL victories. The other came against Armijo, so separating the haves from the have nots in MEL football last season was as easy as telling rocker Iggy Pop apart from rapper Iggy Azalea.

Fairfield and Armijo hope for better luck by joining the Greater Sacramento League.

Fairfield and Armijo are going out with a bang only because Vacaville and Vanden slammed the door behind them. Any team will take an easy victory now and then, but having three or four lopsided wins in a row with the reserves playing as much as or even more than the starters does not bode well for playoff preparation.

That has likely contributed to Vacaville failing to reach the third round of the section playoffs in 12 of 13 years since capturing the Division II championship in 2011. The MEL took a blindside hit after the 2017 season when Napa and Vintage defected. Napa’s departure left Vacaville without a legitimate MEL challenger. That came to bear with the Bulldogs’ dominance in 2018-22.

Vacaville went 24-0 in those five years with an average margin of victory against MEL opponents of 34 points. In each of those seasons, the starters went from relaxing on the sideline during lopsided victories in the MEL season to hoping they would have the stamina to go all out for four quarters in the postseason.

Vanden ended Vacaville’s remarkable run last year with a 24-9 win at Tom Zunino Stadium. The Bulldogs made the playoffs and were again eliminated in the second round with a 38-0 loss at St. Mary’s in Stockton. The 2022 season ended the same way for Vacaville, which reached the second round and lost 42-0 to Manteca.

That is not a knock against Vacaville as much as it is against the section. Vanden, Fairfield and Armijo were added to the MEL with section administrators knowing full well that Fairfield and Armijo would be out of their league. And now the section has the bright idea of of realigning leagues for the sake of competitive equity.

Let’s play a game of connect the football dots. Pioneer beat Dixon 17-13 last season and Dixon lost 42-7 to Armijo. It would be safe to say Armijo would have had its way with Pioneer, which beat Dixon for just the second time in the past six years.

In regards to the other two MEL newcomers, River City lost 34-7 to Pioneer in 2022 and Sacramento lost 35-32 last year to the MEL’s worst team in Will C. Wood. Who knows how Sacramento will fare without running back Lamar Radcliffe, who ran for 1,467 yards as a senior last year and has signed to play at San Jose State.

Radcliffe missed the 2022 season after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee in the season opener. He attracted national attention as a sophomore in 2021 when he ran for 2,109 yards and 23 touchdowns.