It’s been a common joke whenever the CIF Southern Section has competitive equity playoffs in whatever sport that the team that loses in a No. 4 vs. No. 5 seed quarterfinal for its highest classification automatically becomes a favorite to win the CIF Division I state championship.
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For this year, not so much. According to CIF Director Cici Robinson during a conversation with Cal-Hi Sports on Friday morning, the CIF section commissioners voted in January to abolish the 50 percent section rule for all state divisions and also voted to eliminate the often confusing criteria for teams that could be moved up from any division into the Open Division.
On the eve of the CIFSS Open Division playoffs starting on Friday for the boys and Saturday for the girls, we thought it was important to point out those two moves because they both will give the CIF much more flexibility for choosing a fifth or even sixth team from the Southern Section to be moved up to into the Open Division.
One misconception that we’ve made has been that the limit of just four teams from any one section has only applied to the Open Division.
“It was 50 percent from any one section in any division,” said Robinson, who is in her first year at the CIF state office as a director and is doing the job for the boys and girls state playoffs that was done the last few years by Senior Director Brian Seymour (he’s still at the CIF state office but directed wrestling this year). “And it’s obviously been a priority and will continue to be a priority for each (CIF) section to be represented at each division level of the playoffs.”
To be clear, removing the 50 percent rule for an eight-team CIF Open Division means that there is no longer a limit of four from any one section. The CIF will still prefer to keep it at four and the committees will look to fill Open Divisions from all sections as much as possible. It’s just that they don’t have to any more.
The criteria for the Open Division prior to this season forced us to check how each team fared in the previous four seasons (including the current season) to see if that team was eligible for the Open Division. Teams also could declare if they wanted to be considered for the Open Division or decide not to move up if they didn’t qualify.
A great example of that was the Chino Hills boys during Lonzo Ball’s junior season. The Huskies weren’t eligible for the Open Division based on criteria and decided not to go to the Open Division. Without all that criteria, the CIF can now just look at various rankings (including ours), head-to-head results and use common sense and choose whichever teams it wants for the Open Division. There’s no choice like Chino Hills had three years ago.
Both of those moves by the CIF commissioners greatly increases the likelihood that a fifth or even sixth team from the CIF Southern Section may be in this year’s SoCal Open Division. And if you look at the most recent state rankings, with state No. 4 Sierra Canyon matching up with state No. 6 Rancho Christian in the first round of the CIFSS Open Division and with No. 5 Mater Dei playing No. 7 Crespi of Encino (not to mention the No. 1 and No. 3 teams also being in the same bracket), yes the odds seem pretty high that a fifth CIFSS team will be in the SoCal Open.
Once the L.A. City and San Diego section titles are decided, however, the CIF commissioners could still keep it at four from the Southern. All of the results are not yet in and we already know that Foothills Christian of the San Diego Section has head-to-head wins over both Westchester and Fairfax of the L.A. City Section.
For NorCal boys hoops, the limit of four in the past hasn’t often been a problem but there have been a few seasons when the CIF North Coast Section has had more than four. In other sports, the CIF Central Coast Section being limited to four in a sport like girls volleyball has been a big problem in Northern California due to the dominance of teams from the West Catholic Athletic League.
Robinson added that when the CIF commissioners meet to seed the boys and girls basketball playoffs they will continue to make it a priority not to have two teams from the same section who just played each other in a section final play again in the regionals.
“When avoidable, we never want to repeat a section playoff that just happened,” she said.
On the girls side, Robinson said that once again it’s not a certainty that defending CIF Open Division state champion Clovis West will be in the SoCal Open Division like it was last year since the CIF has flexibility whether to put a Central Section team (like Clovis West) in either north or south. But with both national powerhouses Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and St. Mary’s of Stockton in the north, it’s not going to take a degree in physics to see that putting Clovis West back in the same SoCal Open Division that it won last year is the clear way to go.
Both of these Open Division changes also doesn’t impact how the CIF will seed all of the other state basketball divisions.
“The committee will take all of each section’s competitive equity rankings and then will do each bracket,” she said. “In the Southern Section, there will be 44 teams that qualify and the Southern Section provides a ranking of all 44 teams from No. 1 down to No. 44.”
It will be up to each section to determine those team rankings. Some may just go straight to the computer. Some may use the computer to start and then look for head-to-head wins that would move up certain teams. Some may just revert to their own section playoff criteria.
The reason we don’t do divisional state rankings in basketball like we did in the past mainly is because we don’t know what divisions teams are going to be in when the regional playoffs begin. Other than those obvious Open Division teams at the top for NorCal and SoCal, no one does. A team’s section division doesn’t matter, either. We’ll just have to wait until Sunday, March 5 to find out and then we can start to look ahead to see which top teams in which divisions might be playing each other in state finals.