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For those of you who have attended CIF state basketball championship games in Sacramento over the years, there have been outstanding teams in divisional finals lower than the Open Division, lower than Division I and even a few in Division IV and Division V.
James Harden (Artesia of Lakewood) and Klay Thompson (Santa Margarita) both played on boys teams that won Division III state championships. For the girls, Piedmont’s back-to-back Division IV state titles in 2004 and 2005 with the Paris twins (Courtney & Ashley) leading the way were both teams that were among the highest-ranked in the nation.
Even last year, Mission High’s historic run to the Division III boys state title that earned the city of San Francisco its first-ever public school state title and Eastside College Prep’s repeat in Division V girls showed off rosters from teams that arguably were top 25 overall in the state.
This season, though, anyone thinking that there will be teams in the Division III, Division IV and Division V brackets that will be close to even the top 100 in the state better start getting used to what’s going to happen with competitive equity seeding.
This new way of seeding teams into the Northern California and Southern California regional playoffs began in November for girls volleyball and if you use what happened in that sport as a barometer for how it may work in basketball, the results were less than stellar.
Competitive equity seeding is the process of putting teams into divisions with no regard whatsoever to enrollments or with section playoff alignments. Each section essentially ranks all of the teams that are qualifying for the regional playoffs based on competitive equity and then the CIF will base its regional divisions on those rankings.
A good example in volleyball is what happened for teams from the Marin County Athletic League in the CIF North Coast Section. League champ Marin Catholic went to the NorCal Open Division as expected, but Branson of Ross, a team that has won multiple Division V state titles, was placed into NorCal Division I. In that tougher bracket, Branson had no chance. A middle of the road MCAL team, San Marin of Novato, did get into NorCal Division V and then actually won the NorCal D5 title before losing in the state final.
Sure, the competition between the teams in the lower divisions of the new competitive equity based placements is fine. It’s just that in volleyball there clearly wasn’t a single team from Division III or lower that probably would be among the top 100 overall in the state. Possibly even top 200. Presentation of San Jose, which was battling for the cellar in the West Catholic Athletic League this season, won the D4 state title and still had a losing record.
For the Open Division in girls volleyball, competitive equity seeding made no difference for the goal of the top overall teams in the state playing each other. Archbishop Mitty of San Jose repeated with a 3-0 victory over Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Monarchs also may be in the Open Division final in girls basketball this season like they were last season (lost to Clovis West) but probably will have to beat loaded St. Mary’s of Stockton a second time in the NorCal final.
The D1 bracket in girls volleyball also featured a lot of other strong teams, but with the same problem that basketball has had in recent years and that’s that the fifth or sixth-best overall teams from the CIF Southern Section that don’t get into the SoCal Open Division are teams that have tended to be a lot better than other non-Open Division teams from the rest of the state. Remember, just like in volleyball continued to be this season and in the past, there will continue to be a limit of four teams from any one section that can be in the Open Division.
Once you started getting into D2, however, some of the weaker state volleyball teams began to emerge and then in D3 and lower there wasn’t even a State Top 20 bubble team close to be found. The CIF will point out that this new method will provide experiences for some of these schools and student-athletes that they would never get before. That’s true, it’s just that the teams themselves actually aren’t that good and certainly aren’t close to being as strong as those teams many of us have gotten used to watching in some of the lower divisions.
The CIF football games in the last three years have been determined by the same competitive equity factors. It’s just that in football we’re only dealing with section championship teams (with a few runner-up exceptions). When this system gets extended into 16-team Open Divisions and more 32-team brackets, there’s just not enough qualified, strong teams to fill them out. The deeper you go, the weaker the teams get.
We’ll still heartily attend and support the CIF state basketball championships this March. The Open Division, Division I and hopefully Division II finals will be worth watching. Based on what happened in volleyball, however, the opportunities to take breaks during the other games will be much more frequent.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: