Will prep football get its own showcase like Central Section basketball?
If the Selland Showcase has agreed with you — and, clearly, it has to thousands experiencing the Central Section basketball finals in downtown Fresno the past seven years — imagine this: football finals in a common house, too.
The idea of football adopting the hoops concept and allowing fans the opportunity to see all six divisional championships in two days at one site — Bulldog Stadium — has gained traction.
But it also promises to face aggressive opposition, particularly from Bakersfield.
Bob Kayajanian, an integral figure in making the two-day basketball finals a special experience since it was planted at Selland Arena in 2005, says he has received an oral agreement from Fresno State to rent Bulldog Stadium for two days at a total of $10,000.
That’s a bargain — half what the college was demanding when talks were broached several years ago — and a well-advised public-relations move by a school that, in general, has lost the community’s collective athletic heart in recent years.
Consider, also: Last year’s basketball championships at Selland — a combined 10 boys and girls games in five divisions over two days in early March — grossed about $100,000 in ticket sales, according to section Commissioner Jim Crichlow.
Minus expenses, $31,000 was funneled back to the participating schools and $8,000 to the section’s CIF reserve fund.
But not to hang a price tag on what’s been the greatest benefit of all at Selland — the experience for players and fans.
We’ve seen the wide-eyed basketball players escorted through a human tunnel, on a red carpet and into Selland Arena.
The fans — for the same price, on the same day, in the same venue — just last year had the opportunity to watch stars Grant Verhoeven of Central Valley Christian, Madison Parrish of Hanford, Erikka Banks of Clovis East, Jajuan Hammond of Bullard and Denzel Johnson of Clovis West on one Saturday without leaving the arena.
But, while the basketball format has been well-received throughout the section, it’s obvious that won’t be the case in football, where the losses of homefield advantage and concession/parking revenue are magnified.
Bakersfield High Athletic Director Cheyenne Bell says the school netted $6,200 in concessions from last December’s D-I football championship at home, where they defeated Bullard 38-3.
“You’re talking about our best fundraiser for the whole year,” Drillers coach Paul Golla says. “Is someone going to reimburse that?”
Bullard coach Donnie Arax — despite not having a campus venue (McLane Stadium is the Knights’ designated home field) — also is opposed to moving the finals to Bulldog Stadium in part because of lost concessions and parking. All that goes to the city of Fresno in basketball, and it likely would to Fresno State in football.
No one coach has more reason to fight the switch than Golla.
The Drillers, with a state-record 35 section titles in the sport, would be sacrificing more than a championship at home: With 88-year-old Griffith Stadium, it’s more like a museum.
And Golla doesn’t stop there: “The drive, almost 2 hours to Fresno, getting kids going — it makes no sense for Bakersfield schools to agree with this. It would be a definite advantage for Clovis and Fresno schools, with 10-minute bus rides. Having it halfway, in Visalia, would be a better argument.”
That’s hardly realistic considering Visalia’s largest venue — Mineral King Bowl — seats 7,500 and doesn’t have an artificial surface. And, with the wear of six games in two days, along with the potential of rain, a grass field won’t be considered.
Kern County schools also could complain — even though they haven’t — that section finals are already being permanently staged in the north in basketball, cross country (Woodward Park), and track and field (Buchanan).
Kayajanian embraces the bigger picture: “Is it really about a coach, his winning percentage and concessions? Or is it about the kid having that kind of experience playing in front of everyone, and the rights of the fans who wouldn’t have to make a choice when they have cousins playing at Kingsburg and Bullard on the same night?”
While encouraged in discussions with Nate Wills, Fresno State’s assistant athletic director for internal operations, Kayajanian does say he’s only on a “fact-finding mission,” with several hurdles to clear. That would include negotiating with the college on labor costs (security, ticket-takers, etc.).
In his first official move, Kayajanian made a presentation to the section’s football advisory board Thursday night in Visalia.
Should that be met with approval, the plan would advance to the 35-member Board of Managers, which would make the final call.
Realistically, Kayajanian says, 2013 is the goal, though next fall is a possibility.
History is now
Statistical students in the section are sitting in the front row of history class like sponges, absorbing data that’s flowing like the Kings River in a wet year.
We just completed a football season that bid goodbye to some of the section’s most prolific athletes of all time in receiver Deontay Greenberry (Washington), quarterback Michael Baker (Central) and running backs Brian Alvarado (Coalinga), Xavier Stephens (Tulare), Chris Brown (Memorial) and Demetrius Warren (Bullard).
And this rolls into basketball, with Verhoeven and Alex Fertig (Buchanan) about to check out with career numbers eminent in section annals.
With that, we owe a collective thanks to Valley historian Bob Barnett, who continues to inform us of their section status — voluntarily.
By Andy Boogaard