Fryer: CIF-SS on brink of historic change to playoff system


Mission Viejo will play Santa Margarita in a nonleague football game this coming fall.

Bob Johnson, Mission Viejo’s coach, arranged for that voluntarily. Johnson does not mind having his Diablos play a Trinity League team like Santa Margarita, or any other private-school team, if it is his choice to do so.

Mission Viejo will be involuntarily playing Trinity League teams in the 2016 playoffs if a proposal to radically change the structure of the CIF-Southern Section football playoffs, and most of the section’s other sports, is passed next week.

For decades, a league’s football teams that go to the playoffs play in the same playoff division. All Trinity League playoff teams in 2015 were in the Pac-5 Division for the playoffs, all South Coast League playoff teams were in the West Valley Division, all Freeway League teams were in the Southwest Division, etc.

In basketball, a league’s playoff teams can go to the playoffs in different divisions.

A proposal to make playoff groupings in football and other sports like the groupings in basketball – the format is called “competitive equity” - will be voted on Wednesday by the Southern Section Council.

The Council is the CIF-SS legislative body made up of representatives of the section’s 88 leagues, including five at-large voting members.

If the proposal passes Wednesday, the changes would be in place for the 2016-17 school year. This would affect most of the fall sports (football, girls tennis, girls volleyball and boys water polo), winter sports (boys and girls soccer, girls water polo), and spring sports (baseball, softball, boys tennis and boys volleyball).

Teams would be placed into divisions via a formula that evaluates their regular-season records, strength of schedule and CIF-SS playoff performance over the previous two school years. These evaluations would create competitive equity power rankings. When the power rankings are complete, playoff divisions would be created.

In football, the top teams in the power rankings would be placed into the top division, the precise number of which is not yet known.

That top division would again be called Division 1, as it was for years before the name was changed to the Pac-5 Division. The next group of teams in the power rankings would go to Division 2 (currently known as the West Valley Division) and so on down to Division 13 (East Valley Division).

Schools will know which divisions they are in before the season begins.

Johnson is adamantly against the proposal.

“This would be ridiculous,” Johnson said Thursday. “For us, a public school, to be thrown in with the private schools is wrong. We don’t and can’t do what private schools do because we have to operate under a different set of rules than the private schools have.”

Johnson threatened a boycott of playoff games if Mission Viejo is in a football playoffs division made up mostly of private schools.

“If we’re in with that bunch,” he said, “then we’ll refuse to play them.”

The CIF-SS office and playoff committees will need all CIF-SS member schools to submit the needed data – all regular-season and playoff results – into a database created by the CIF-SS office.

Member schools that do not input complete and accurate data for a sport will be ineligible for the playoffs in that sport.

The database – called “CIFSSHome” – is incomplete for a number of teams in a variety of sports. Some athletic directors need to get their coaches on board.

The number of playoff entries per league will be not change.

Schools and teams can appeal their divisional placement only if the data is inaccurate.

This week, the CIF-SS Executive Committee supported the proposal. The Executive Committee, made of 23 members including CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod, advises the Council and CIF-SS leadership and when required enforces CIF-SS rules and by-laws.

CIF-SS Council votes often follow the recommendations of the Executive Committee. However, since the competitive equity proposal was created by the Executive Committee, its support of the proposal was expected.

Wigod has promoted the proposal as vigorously as he can. He regularly attends league and area meetings around the huge Southern Section, with recent meetings emphasizing the proposal and anwering questions about it. Wigod meets with Orange County representatives today.

Wigod’s “Message From The Commissioner” newsletter to member schools in November provided data to support the competitive equity concept, that first-round playoff results in the fall sports of football, boys water polo and girls tennis showed the competitive disparity in the current playoffs-by-league-affiliation format. The average margin of victory was 38 points in the football Pac-5 Division first round, was 37 points in the Inland Valley Division football first round, was 10 goals in boys water polo’s Division 1 first round, was 11 sets in girls tennis’ Division 3 first round.

Not every team in a league belongs in the same playoff division. A good example is football’s Moore League. Long Beach Poly of the Moore League has been a good competitive fit in the Pac-5 Division, but the Moore’s other playoff teams usually get blown out.

The No. 2 playoff representative from the Moore League, Lakewood, lost to Trinity League No. 2, Mater Dei, 66-14, in the first round. Long Beach Wilson became the Moore’s No. 1 playoff representative when forfeits kept Poly out of the playoffs. Wilson lost to the Mission League’s No. 3 team, Loyola of Los Angeles, 48-16.

The Moore League is one of many football leagues that are top heavy – the league’s best team can compete on the elite level, but the league’s other teams cannot. The competitive equity system would fix that.

The best and simplest way to fix the inequity and to bring peace to the CIF-Southern Section’s public schools vs. private schools problem is to create separate playoff divisions for private schools and public schools in all sports. It is a problem, no matter what CIF-SS brass says.

Diplomatic committees have been formed to improve communication between the two groups, but the animosity public schools have toward private schools is not going away.

Perhaps a separation of private and public schools in CIF athletics would not survive a legal challenge in California courts – equal access and who knows what else could be issues.

Also, there are public school programs that have been as successful as the private schools. Centennial of Corona, a public school, has won two straight Pac-5 football championship, and another public school, Chino Hills, has the best boys basketball team in California this season.

Mission Viejo’s football team is 26-2 in CIF-SS play over the past two seasons and the Diablos won the West Valley championship both seasons. Mission Viejo also won a state championship in 2015, but state results are not included in the performance profile.

With such a record and CIF-SS playoff success, Mission Viejo is certain to be in Division 1 for football in 2016 if the proposal passes.

If the proposal does not pass, Mission Viejo still might be in the top football division in ’16. This school year is the last with the current playoff groupings. This spring, new playoff groupings will be created for the next two-year period that begins with the 2016-17 school year.

“I told Bob Johnson,” Wigod said, “that if the old system remains in place, there is a strong likelihood that the South Coast League will be moved up to the Pac-5 Division.”

Wigod said he does not have a feel for how the vote will go at the CIF-SS Council meeting on Wednesday.

If the proposal passes … like it or not …

“This,” Wigod said, “will be the biggest change in our section’s history.”

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