Fryer: A look at how the new football playoff system works


This is the next-to-last week of the football regular season.

To be technical, it’s the next-to-last week for the 11-man version of the game. It’s the final week for 8-man football, for which Orange County has two teams, Sage Hill and St. Michael’s Prep.

The CIF-Southern Section playoff structure has changed for most team sports, including football. It used to be that a league’s playoff teams all played in the same playoff division. Now, teams are sent to divisions based upon how well they have performed in recent seasons.

The CIF-SS office, using a performance- and results-based points system, ranked all 402 CIF-SS 11-man football teams and then placed them in divisions. The teams with the highest points profiles were grouped into Division 1, the next-highest teams were placed in Division 2 and so on down to Division 13. The number of teams in a division varies from division – Division 1, for example, has 18 teams and Division 13 has 85.

When the season ends next Friday, the CIF-SS office will spend the following day creating the playoff brackets for 11-man football. There will be 13 brackets, one per division, with 16 teams per bracket. Those brackets will be released Nov. 6 and will be available at

Four- and five-teams leagues are guaranteed two playoff entries. The South Coast League is a five-team league. For the sake of understanding how this works, if the season had ended last week then South Coast League champion Mission Viejo would go to Division 1 as the league’s No. 1 playoff representative and San Clemente, which is a Division 2 team, would go to Division 2 as the South Coast’s No. 2 playoff representative.

Most county leagues are six-team leagues, which have three guaranteed playoff representatives, as do the seven- and eight-team leagues that are uncommon but are scattered around the massive CIF-Southern Section.

The CIF-SS’s first job is to place all of the divisions’ league champions into their respective brackets. Then comes placing the leagues’ No. 2 teams. The No. 3 teams from leagues then are placed.

If all of the automatic qualifiers have been placed into the 16-team bracket but available berths remain, then it’s time to examine the list of at-large candidates. A team that did not finish high enough in its league’s final standings to get a guaranteed playoff berth can petition for an at-large berth. Teams that finish with .500-or-better overall records go to the top of the list of at-large candidates.

To select at-large teams, the CIF-SS at-large selection committee will use this points-based selection criteria to select at-large teams: head-to-head results among teams considered are worth four points; strength of the league from which the candidate is entered is worth one point; overall win-loss record is one point; strength against common opponents is one point; and strength of schedule, which is the overall won-loss record of a team’s opponents, is worth two points.

Now, it gets tricky. For example ... if in a division there were enough Nos. 1 and 2 teams to fill 13 of the division’s 16 berths and there are five No. 3 teams in the division with only three available berths for those five No. 3 teams, the CIF-SS has to go to the at-large selection criteria system to identify which of those five No. 3 teams get the three available berths.

Also, if a division has room for four at-large teams but only three of those teams finished with a .500-or-better overall record, then the selection committee will start looking at “next-best” teams, teams that did not finish at .500 to fill that berth. Again, the at-large selection criteria would be used to decide which 4-6, or whatever, team gets the at-large berth.

If a six-team league’s No. 4 team has a 4-6 overall record and its No. 5 is 5-5, the CIF-SS must take the 5-5 team over the 4-6 even though the 4-6 team finished higher and had a better league record than the 5-5 teams. Those are the rules.

There will be no first-round byes. All 16 berths in all 13 divisions will be filled. Football will not have the wild-card round games that are used in some sports.

Leagues submit their playoff representatives to the CIF-SS office in order of representation. If a league has co-champions, it can give both of those teams a No. 1 designation as long as those two teams are not in the same division.

If, say, the Trinity League’s St. John Bosco and Mater Dei finish with 4-1 league records both could not be No. 1 teams because both are Division 1 teams. One would have to be league’s No. 2 and it’s up to the league to determine that. But if, in the Garden Grove League, Garden Grove and La Quinta finish as league champs both could be designated a league No. 1 team because Garden Grove is a Division 8 team and La Quinta is in Division 13.

Nov. 6, the day CIF-SS playoff brackets are released, starts with the posting of at-large teams at 8 a.m. Starting at 10 a.m. divisional brackets are released every half hour, three divisions at a time, except for Division 1 which gets its own slot that day at 11 a.m.

By the way, we tried to figure out the Division 1 bracket. If the regular season had ended last week, and if we got it figured out right, Division 1 would have had 11 automatic qualifiers with room for five at-large teams. Of the other seven teams in Division 1, only JSerra right now has the five wins that makes a .500 finish a certainty.

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