With the most difficult football season in school history finally in the rearview mirror, the Moorpark College football team nears a fork in the road.
Coming off the first 0-10 season in school history, the Raiders can elect to remain in Southern California Football Association's top tier, the National Division, over the next two seasons or choose to step down into the lower tier, the American Division.
Schools have until Nov. 30 to make their appeal to the SCFA's competition committee, according to commissioner Jim Sartoris. Moorpark coach Jim Bittner said he would meet with athletic director Howard Davis next week to discuss the future of the program.
Asked his opinion, Bittner gave arguments for both sides before saying, "If I have the final word, we're going to stay (in the top tier) and fight."
"Recruiting is going to be a tough, tough thing (after going 0-10)," said Bittner. "But I sort of like staying where we are because at least I know the opponents.
"We have to make a quick decision."
The lower tier may seem perfect for a program on a school-record 11-game losing streak, but Moorpark, behind record-breaking quarterback Ian Shultis, was competitive to the bitter end of a winless season, tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter of losses at Pasadena City and Glendale and taking possession twice in the final four minutes of Saturday's Citrus Cup loss to Ventura with a chance to beat rival Ventura.
Plus, the talented freshmen who weathered the 2009 season would give the Raiders a fighting chance to win in 2010 as hungry, battle-hardened sophomores.
"Personally, I feel like we can compete against the teams that we played this year," said Shultis, the Thousand Oaks High product who broke nearly every Moorpark passing mark as a freshman. "I know our record shows that we didn't have the best season, but... I want to play the best teams out there and I want to stay in this league."
The SCFA competition committee reviews the schools' appeals and makes a reconferencing recommendation to Sartoris, who will make a final decision early next year.
"We just have to see who applies to move either up and down," said Sartoris. "Besides records, the competition committee is going to look at a lot of things, like the history of the program, the number of people on rosters, the number of full-time coaches
"There's a lot of inequities between our colleges and the main goal is to create competitive balance."
With that in mind, the coaches association disbanded the traditional conferences to create the two-tiered SCFA, modeled on the three-tiered structure in Northern California, before the 2008 season. This is its first round of reconferencing.
Moorpark has won 12 Western State Conference titles, made 17 postseason appearances and is just two years removed from perhaps the best two-year period in school history, when the Raiders won 19 games and made consecutive appearances in the Southern California regional playoffs.
"They have a great tradition there," said Sartoris.
Moorpark already decided to suspend its tradition-laden wresting program in August. If Moorpark did step down into the American Division, it would look like a match for the Pacific Division, which features local rivals Los Angeles Pierce and Valley. Pierce went on to win the division this fall after beating Moorpark for the first time in 25 years, 37-20, Sept. 5.