NEW PORT RICHEY — When Pasco County's high school athletic directors and most of its principals arrived Thursday morning at River Ridge High, the county's longstanding athletic conference seemed endangered.
When they adjourned roughly three hours later, it was entrenched.
After lengthy discourse, debate and even mild dissension, the executive board of the 11-school Sunshine Athletic Conference voted to keep the county league just as it is. At least outwardly.
The board, comprised Thursday of the ADs, seven principals and two assistant principals, met with SAC executive secretary/treasurer Keith Newton and county head of athletics Phil Bell to discuss whether to split the ever-growing conference into east-west divisions or abolish it outright.
Prompting the discussion: The continued growth of the conference, making it difficult — and in some sports, impossible — for all conference teams to play each other and determine an outright champion; and glaring controversies in voting for all-SAC teams that are selected by coaches.
But a voice vote to preserve the SAC, motioned by Hudson AD Linda McQuade, was approved unanimously. And anticlimactically.
"That's one thing we checked off," Bell said after the vote. "We're having a conference."
Eliciting more debate was how to structure the SAC, which grows by one when Anclote High opens on the county's western fringe next school year.
A motion to divide the conference into six-team east-west divisions (with the Suncoast Parkway serving as the dividing line) was defeated by a 14-8 roll-call vote. Each school had two votes.
Proponents of the split suggested that establishing geographic divisions and, playing each divisional foe twice, would magnify local rivalries that typically provide solid gate revenue. Opponents said two all-SAC teams (one for each division) would "water down" the prestige of such an honor.
"I'm all for (the split)," veteran Ridgewood AD/boys basketball coach Gary Anders said. "Again, I go back to the financial end of it. If I'm playing Gulf two times, it's going to help our financial coffers without a doubt."
Sports that hold tournaments to determine overall conference champions (such as golf, wrestling, cross country, track) wouldn't have been affected by an east-west split.
"My opinion is, until we have to split the conference, we don't split the conference," Land O'Lakes AD Chuck Moehle said.
Sunlake AD Matt McDermott later motioned to split the conference into divisions only for football, where it's currently impossible for all SAC teams to play each other. That failed by a voice vote.
The only approved modification was to restructure the executive board to include one representative (principal, assistant principal or AD) from each school, an executive secretary and the county AD as chairperson. That passed by a voice vote.
All motions passed Thursday must be rubber-stamped at the next executive board meeting in May.