CA football finals bill awaits governor’s signature

Sen. Melissa Hurtado’s ‘Equity for Rural Schools Act,’ which requires neutral sites for state title football games, passes California legislature; awaits Gov. Newsom’s approval

(John Johnson on Adobe Stock)
(John Johnson on Adobe Stock)
Mid Valley Times Staff
Published September 19, 2023  • 
1:30 pm

SACRAMENTO – A bill introduced by a local state senator is a step closer to becoming law after formally clearing the California legislature last week.

Senate Bill 486, also known as the “Equity for Rural Schools Act” and authored by Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Bakersfield), was passed by the state Senate on Sept. 7 and the Assembly on Sept. 12. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom for final approval.

Hurtado, a Sanger native, authored the bill back in February. The bill would require the California Interscholastic Federation to hold all state football championship games at a neutral location, as defined, that is comparable to the location of all other championship games, except as provided. Presently, the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) holds state championship football games at the home fields of higher seeded teams.

“One of the core values of the (National Football League) is ‘Responsibility to Team’, a value that the California Interscholastic Federation does not align with,” Hurtado said in a news release. “They have demonstrated this by treating some teams with more importance than others. This type of behavior does not show respect or love for the game, the teams or the players.

“Either CIF has a bad business model, or they have bad business practices. Either way, California football teams and players have me on their side. I hope the Governor listens to the high school football players that worked so hard to push this bill to his desk.”

Hurtado’s contention is smaller rural schools in line to host a championship contest – but don’t have the facilities to serve as a host – would be likely forced to move the site of the game. The bill states that having all state title games played at neutral sites (except in situations that are outside of control of CIF) would provide equity to all schools.

Ezekiel Osborne, a Shafter High student and football player who testified along with teammate Mariyon Sloan before assembly committee members, expressed his thanks to Hurtado for her support and authoring the bill.

“The changes she has helped make will not only benefit my team but every small high school team across California in achieving fairness in the sport we all put so much hard work into,” the Kern County student said. “I know that every small town and small high school in California is thankful for all of Senator Hurtado’s hard work.”

Jerald PIerucci, head coach for Shafter High football, also continued to lobby for Newsom’s signature to make the bill law.

“As a coach and an educator, you always hope that your students/athletes will have the courage to stand up for what’s right when the moment presents itself,” he said. “Ezekiel and Mariyon have represented our football program, high school, school district and all student/athletes who are affected by the CIF’s current state playoff format with poise and maturity above their years.

“I stand with them, Senator Hurtado, and the rest of the small schools in the state of California, to urge Governor Newsom to sign this bill, and give all athletes the experience they deserve when they play for a state championship.”

During testimony at committee hearings for the bill, student athletes Sloan and Osborne recounted their personal heartbreak competing at such a high level of athletics, while forced to contend with unequal playing field conditions during a pivotal moment in their burgeoning athletic careers.

As the CIF state playoff structure for football currently stands, five of those 15 games are held at neutral locations across the state at college stadiums, and are typically reserved for the five highest divisions. The remaining 10 games are generally held at the home field of the higher seeded team. The higher seeded team with home field advantage is responsible for providing the field and other facilities for the game, as well as organizing the event. As such, the higher seeded team gets an advantage and generally draws a larger fan base.

The bill was twice amended in the assembly, in June and August. It would be added to the state’s education code relating to interscholastic athletics.

Mid Valley Times Staff