The California Interscholastic Federation regional championship football games this weekend offer a variety of tantalizing matchups, most notably the Open Division game between De La Salle and Folsom on Saturday night at Sacramento State.
But the biggest question that arose before and after the CIF Federated Council approved the addition of the regional title games in April 2010 still lingers.
Has the high school football season become too long?
Twelve of the 20 Northern and Southern California teams competing this weekend will be playing their 15th game of the season. At the state championship bowl games Dec. 14-15 in Carson, nine teams could be playing a 16th game -- equivalent to an NFL regular season schedule.
"We realize the intent was good, to bring the most competitive teams together," De La Salle principal Brother Robert Wickman said of the approval of the regional title games. "But we also have to remember that these are students first and athletes second."
CIF officials have discussed this issue of player safety since talk of adding regional title games began three years ago. On Sunday, CIF executive director Roger Blake said he believes coaches who bring their teams to this level "do it the right way" and do not overwork their players.
"An individual coach stated that at this point, his kids would be beat up and hurt. Well, perhaps that player shouldn't be playing," Blake said. "Responsible adults need to make responsible decisions."
If the regional title games are here to stay, options for shortening the season include reducing the regular season from 10 games to eight or nine, or reducing the NCS playoffs from four weeks to three weeks.
Reducing games would have an adverse financial effect, though, as each school and the section would have to think of ways to replace the lost revenue. NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon said no proposal has been made to shorten the section playoffs.
"I think at the high school level you start going past 12 games, you're pushing it," Clayton Valley Charter coach Tim Murphy said last week. "So far, so good, and we're curtailing the contact even more to remain healthy. I've been through seasons that have gone 13 games and our kids are through, they are tired.
"But we've played to a (15-16 game season) knowing we have a chance to go that far, we have definitely pulled back."
HAAGENSON STEPS DOWN: Saying he was starting to feel worn out, Jeff Haagenson stepped down as Heritage's coach. Haagenson was hired in April 2005 and coached the school's freshman and junior varsity teams for two years before the varsity team began its first season in 2007.
Haagenson, who will remain a teacher at the school, had an overall record of 38-29 in six years, and his teams made the NCS playoffs in each of his first five seasons.
Staff writer Stephanie Hammon contributed to this notebook.
Athletes of the week
Are on Page 9.