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Zero Week Amounts to a Lot for Some Football Coaches

A 1996 rule change helps teams solve scheduling problems by playing one week before most schools.

September 04, 2003|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Last spring, Bellflower St. John Bosco Coach Kiki Mendoza was scrambling to fill a hole in his football team's 2003 nonleague schedule, the result of a cancellation by Los Alamitos.

"You have no idea how desperate we were," Mendoza said.

While the specific date of Sept. 26 was never filled, thanks to recent changes in Southern Section rules, St. John Bosco will open its season against Westchester on Friday -- a full week ahead of the majority of teams in Southern California.

It's called a Zero Week game, one of 24 taking place in the Southland this season.

In 1996, the Southern Section began sanctioning Zero Week games to help teams scheduled to play out-of-state games and to provide an option for those playing in leagues with an uneven number of teams.

Practices begin a week earlier, but the teams are then required to take Week 1 off as a bye week, during which players cannot practice in helmets or pads.

Last spring, the section's football rules committee approved changes that made scheduling Zero Week games a little easier.

Bye weeks can take place any week of the regular season, and the number of practices required before the first game was reduced to 25 from 27.

"It allows more teams flexibility," said Rob Wigod, Southern Section assistant commissioner.

Teams are allowed a maximum of 10 games during the regular season, but only those that don't play during Zero Week can scrimmage against another school at that time.

For Mendoza, the rule changes mean St. John Bosco won't have to settle for a nine-game schedule.

"This saved us, when you get right down to it," Mendoza said. "We were into late June looking for a game. It was ridiculous."

Los Alamitos opted out of its game with the Braves because Sept. 26 is the beginning of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, and the schools couldn't agree on another date.

The Griffins, ranked No. 5 in the nation by Student Sports Magazine, also found a Zero Week opponent. They open at Culver City on Friday.

Westchester, a member of the City Section, was supposed to play Inglewood on Sept. 12, but that game fell through, leaving Coach Martin Smith in a similar bind when Mendoza came calling.

Westchester's bye will come during Week 1, when most City Section school's are having their season openers. But that's all right with Smith.

"I like the idea," Smith said of playing early. "We can go scout most of our opponents with all our coaches. In the past you were lucky to scout just a few teams. And all the teams we are going to play can come watch us play on Sept. 5 too."

Irvine Woodbridge has a more traditional Zero Week game. The Warriors will travel to Kauai, Hawaii, to play Waimea on Saturday.

"This is just something our group has planned to do," Coach Rick Gibson said. "You get 25 practices before your first contest, but [the new rules] didn't affect us other than that."

Gibson likes the bye his team gets in Week 5 because it means an extra week to prepare for the start of Sea View League play. He said he has long advocated the changes made by the Southern Section.

"When we were in a league with five teams two years ago, we had a Week 8 bye that caused us all kinds of headaches," he said.

Coach Mike DiFiori had hoped to fill a Week 5 hole in La Puente Bishop Amat's schedule, but when he couldn't find a suitable opponent, he opted to play on Zero Week, traveling to San Diego power Vista on Friday.

"The bye could be a benefit," he said. "You always hope it works that way. But if a kid gets injured in the fifth week of the season, I don't know how a week off at that time of the year will help him get back in time."

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