Football coaches at local junior colleges are resting a bit easier this spring, secure in the knowledge that the only thing they have to worry about is recruiting new players and getting the ones they already have in shape for next fall.
Thanks to a realignment of the Western State Conference, they no longer must spend endless hours huddled in their offices with telephone receivers stuck to their ears, trying to round up nonconference opponents to complete their schedules.
The new 12-team WSC is a combination of the old WSC, the Southern California Conference and the resurrected programs of the L. A. Community College district. The conference is split into two divisions: Valley, Pierce, Compton, West L. A., Santa Monica and Bakersfield are in one division and Moorpark, Glendale, Harbor, L. A. Southwest, Santa Barbara and Ventura are in the other.
Teams will play five games within their division and four games against other conference members, leaving just one nonconference game to be scheduled. The winners of each division will have the opportunity to meet in a postseason bowl game that will decide the conference champion. However, conference members can bypass the bowl game if they are invited to participate in another bowl.
"What this conference has in it is a lot of local teams playing each other. We're not split all over Southern California," Glendale Coach Jim Sartoris said. "That's got to help junior college football."
California Assn. of Community College bylaws allow for realignment or creation of new conferences every two years. Aviva Kamin, the commissioner of the conference, said realignment was the result of Hancock College's defection to the Central Valley Conference, unequal competition throughout Southern California and the need to accommodate programs such as Pierce and West L. A., which did not field teams the past two years because of budget cutbacks.
Conference coaches were quick to laud the positive aspects of the new alignment, which makes the WSC the second-largest conference in Southern California behind the newly formed, 16-team Mission Conference--a combination of the Mission and South Coast Conferences.
Ease in scheduling, shorter travel distances and the opportunity to resume or create rivalries are the main benefits.
"You really only have to hustle for one game, which is a relief," Pierce Coach Bob Enger said. "A lot of time used to be spent trying to get contracts and finding someone you could beat. Now you can concentrate on football."
Harbor Coach Chris Ferragamo, whose team played in the Southern California Conference last season, said proximity of opponents is the biggest advantage of the new conference. Gone, and gladly forgotten, are the trips to College of the Desert and Victor Valley.
"Last season, I was happy with the competition but the travel was way too far," Ferragamo said. "Now we're closer to a natural rival like Santa Monica."
Other rivalries that will be rekindled include Valley-Pierce, Compton-L. A. Southwest, and Santa Monica-West L .A. Rivalry also will play a part in nonconference openers next season between Harbor and El Camino and Glendale and Pasadena.
Most coaches were satisfied with the division alignment within the conference, which was created by ranking the teams based on past performance.
"There is no perfect way, no matter how you realign something," Santa Monica Coach Ralph Vidal said. "But we're better off than we were before. Up until this season, we were the only conference school in the 213 area code."
Divisional play also was hailed as a cure for another problem.
"Teams don't have to win games by 70 points to get into a bowl game," Enger said.
About the only drawback to the new conference is the tenuous stability of some of the programs. West L. A., for example, has not yet named a coach.
"I like the realignment and think it's a good thing if all the programs stay put," Moorpark Coach Jim Bittner said. "I would hate to see someone bounce in for a year and then leave. I hope we can get some consistency."
Most coaches believe there are enough stable programs to keep the conference competitive, and the opportunity to play against good competition without having to go through the headaches of scheduling and traveling makes being a member of the WSC all the more desirable.
"I can't see any negatives," Ferragamo said. "I've always wanted to play against the very best and now we're in a conference where we can do that. I came to Harbor for a challenge. Now I have it right in my face."