CIF approves competitive-based playoff divisions

The CIF San Diego Section’s board of managers approved a proposal to base playoff divisions on competitive ranking rather than on enrollment.

All but three members of the board of managers present at the Jan. 23 meeting approved the change which will take effect for the spring 2013 baseball and lacrosse seasons and for the 2013-14 seasons for football, girls volleyball, and boys and girls basketball. Six other team sports do not currently have rankings; alternative rankings will be determined and utilized for field hockey, boys and girls water polo, boys and girls soccer, and softball.

The 13 individual sports with CIF-administered post-season competition will continue to have team results based on enrollment divisions for 2013-14 with a review of potential changes during one of that year’s board of managers meetings.

“I believe it is the right thing for our districts and for our schools to move to competitive-based divisions,” said CIF commissioner Jerry Schniepp. “Enrollment-based divisions are no longer as relevant as they were 50 years ago or even 20 years ago.”

The CIF San Diego Section was formed in 1960 with four large-school Class 2A leagues and two small-school Class 1A leagues. At the time the Metro League included both larger-school North County teams and large-school South Bay teams. In 1966, the Avocado League was promoted to Class 2A and the North County schools in the Metro League joined the Avocado League’s existing schools in that circuit while the Southern League remained in Class 1A.

In May 1978, the CIF Board of managers approved a split of the 2A classification into a 3A and 2A format, effective for the 1979-80 seasons, to separate large and medium schools if multiple leagues in a conference permitted. The North County Conference assigned larger schools to the 3A Palomar League and smaller schools to the 2A Avocado League.

The state playoff structure for basketball and girls volleyball utilized a different enrollment division format, and the San Diego Section adopted that format for boys and girls basketball in 1987, girls volleyball in 1988, and boys and girls cross-country in 1990. The divisional structure was also adopted for other sports which still utilized the 3A and 2A system for the 1993-94 seasons. The CIF assigned teams to divisions evenly based on school enrollment while placing schools in the lower division if the breakdown for a particular sport didn’t produce an equal number of teams for each division. The divisional structure also meant that not all teams in the same league were in the same playoff division.

Schniepp took over as the CIF Commissioner in October 2011 and created several committees to deal with various issues. In response to the fact that CIF championships were being dominated by a few schools, he created both a playoff committee and a private/public playoff committee.

Five schools won 48 percent of the 2011-12 CIF championships. Over the past 10 years, six teams won 59 percent of the CIF football championships; five teams won 66 percent of the girls volleyball titles; seven teams won 54 percent of the boys basketball championships; six teams won 56 percent of the girls basketball championships; three teams won 82 percent of the boys water polo titles; five teams won 86 percent of the girls water polo championships; eight teams won 48 percent of the boys soccer titles; five teams won 55 percent of the girls soccer championships; eight teams won 71 percent of the baseball championships, and nine teams won 52 percent of the softball championships.

The two committees included representatives from both public schools and private schools and from both large (Divisions I through III for five-division sports) and small (Division IV and Division V) schools, and the committees included coaches, athletic directors, and school administrators. In addition to boundaries and enrollment, the information shared by the committees included budgets and coaches’ stipends, special education population, and transfer data.

After the discussion began to focus on the competitiveness of the programs, a consensus was reached that playoff division formats needed to be restructured to reflect differences in schools and strengths of the programs and the committee agreed that there was no correlation between overall student enrollment and competitiveness.

The committee also felt that competitively-comparable teams were often not in the same division and that divisions should be created based on competitive history. Many tournaments already use competitiveness rather than enrollment to determine their divisions. Some other CIF sections and state athletic organizations use competitiveness rather than enrollment, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association bases its divisions on competitive resources rather than student enrollment. The committee also cited the examples of club sports and of the European soccer leagues where the top teams in a lower division advance to the next highest division the following year while the bottom teams are relegated to a lower division.

Football, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, and baseball have rankings which use a formula based on win-loss record, strength of schedule, and playoff wins. Boys and girls lacrosse teams have LaxPower rankings. The committee recommended calculating a five-year historical ranking at the end of each season and placing teams in divisions based on that ranking with two exceptions: an “Open Division” for the highest-ranked teams in each sport and a cap of two divisions per year a team can move up or down. The Open Division will have fewer teams than other divisions and each team will be guaranteed entry into the playoffs.

The plan was brought before the CIF Coordinating Council on Sept. 26 and the CIF’s executive committee on Oct. 10 before its first reading Oct. 24. Several changes were made from the original proposal, including an appeals process.

The subsequent changes retained the initial transition cap of two divisions for the first year while limiting movement up or down to one division in subsequent years. The board of managers also restricted schools with an enrollment of at least 1,250 students to Division IV or above for football. The final version also included weighted rankings with the previous year accounting for 35 percent of the ranking, the year before that weighted as 30 percent of the ranking, and the three previous years being 20 percent, 10 percent, and 5 percent of the weighted ranking.

The initial plan called for eight-team Open Division football and baseball playoffs, 12-team playoffs in Divisions I through III, and eight-team playoffs in Divisions IV and V. Due to the possibility of multiple league champions who would be guaranteed playoff berths, the Division IV playoffs were expanded to 12 teams to allow for at-large selections. All eight Open Division basketball and girls volleyball teams will participate in the playoffs along with 16 teams apiece in Divisions I through III and 12 teams apiece in Divisions IV and V. Lacrosse has Division I and Division II along with the Open Division; 12 teams from Division I and 12 Division II teams will join the Open Division teams in the post-season.

The appeals process allows schools to petition for placement in another division. A petition may be submitted only for movement to a higher division, inaccuracy of data, or to provide information for teams without a five-year ranking. If a school did not play a particular sport for each of the previous five years, the CIF commissioner will make the determination of the most appropriate division for the team.

Teams in the Open Division will have first consideration for state playoffs. A football team must be a section champion to qualify for the state playoffs, but for all other sports an Open Division non-champion may be considered for the state playoffs in a division commensurate with the school’s enrollment.

No historical rankings currently exist for field hockey, boys and girls cross-country, boys and girls water polo, girls and boys golf, girls and boys tennis, wrestling, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls track and field, boys and girls swim, gymnastics, softball, or boys volleyball. The CIF only administers playoffs for sports in which more than one conference participates; only the City Conference has badminton and only the Metro Conference has roller hockey.

“The plan is that all of our sports would move to competitive fields once we have accurate data,” Schniepp said.

San Diego Unified School District director of physical education, health, and athletics Bruce Ward is the SDUSD representative on the CIF Board of managers. “In a conference as large as we have not everybody agrees with every aspect, but overall in the City Conference on paper it looks like it will be a good thing,” Ward said. “The opportunities at the divisions are as strong or stronger than it was.”

When the San Diego Section was formed, the City Conference consisted of five teams apiece in the Western League and Eastern League with U.S. Highway 395 (now State Route 163) separating the leagues. The City Conference had 16 teams in 1979-80 and placed the schools with the eight highest enrollments in the 3A Eastern League and those with the eight lowest enrollments in the 2A Western League. The opening of University City High School in 1981 along with the transfer of Christian High School from the Grossmont Conference to the City Conference led to the creation of a second 2A league, the Central League. In 1989, a fourth City Conference league, the 2A Harbor League, was created and included Metro Conference transfers Coronado and Marian (the two South Bay schools not in the Sweetwater Union High School District). Scripps Ranch joined the City Conference in 1993, when 2A and 3A league classifications were eliminated.

“The City Conference has used this format with our re-leaguing for 25 years,” Ward said. “This is not a recreation association. This is competitive interscholastic athletics.”

Fallbrook Union High School District superintendent Dale Mitchell, who is the FUHSD representative on the CIF Board of managers, supported the proposal. “We did believe that it was in our school’s best interest,” Mitchell said. “We’re pleased with the decision.”

The five most recent Fallbrook High School baseball seasons gave the Warriors a Division II assignment for the 2013 season; Fallbrook is ranked 11th among the 18 Division II teams. Fallbrook won’t be fielding a girls lacrosse team this year while the Warrior boys were placed in Division II. There are 22 boys lacrosse teams in Division II including nine too new to have rankings; Fallbrook is ranked second (behind Francis Parker) among the 13 teams with sufficient histories.

During the 2013-14 seasons Fallbrook will be ranked twelfth among the 17 Division II football teams (including six current Division IV teams which cannot move up to Division I until 2014-15), 17th among the 18 Division I girls volleyball teams, 15th among the 19 ranked Division III girls basketball teams (the 20 teams include Del Norte, which is too new to have historical rankings for the past five years), and 15th among the 18 Division I boys basketball teams.

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