It’s never too early to start thinking about CIF state football championships, especially when just about every year there are changes in some of the CIF section playoff formats that are sure to impact what happens when the regional games are selected. The biggest changes this year are in the CCS and in the Sac-Joaquin. We break it down.
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It’s hard to fathom that it’s only three years away from the CIF state football championships being 20 years old. There were were just three divisions at the start and competitive equity based divisions were not even a thought in those days.
It’s also been true almost every year of the CIF state playoffs that a new method for a CIF section conducting its playoffs is foreseen to have a big impact on the regional playoffs. Sometimes, it’s more than one and this year is one of those years.
First, we bring you the new format in the CIF Central Coast Section that it is going to use for its Open Division/Division I playoffs. It will start this year and is the same format that the CIF North Coast Section has used for the last two years.
That format calls for eight teams to be in the top section bracket. They are seeded in a way, however, in which the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds play in the second week if they win first-round games. The winner of that game is then the champion of the Open Division. The losing team isn’t done, but comes back in the third week to play the No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 seed with the winner getting the D1 section title. Since a team has to be a section champion to get a berth into the CIF NorCal playoffs, now both the NCS and CCS second-best teams, in effect, are playing on.
In the first two years of the NCS Open/D1 system, De La Salle of Concord captured its 30th and 31st consecutive section title while Pittsburg (many times a runner-up to the Spartans in the top division with no way to keep going in the regionals) won both years for D1. Pitt was in the NorCal D1-A regional bowls both times as well (losing to Liberty of Bakersfield in 2021 and winning over Manteca in 2022 before losing to Liberty in the state game).
When the CIF had a rule for a couple of seasons that allowed runner-up teams from a section to advance to the regional bowl games, the CCS had more than one runner-up team playing on. Liberty of Brentwood also was an NCS runner-up to De La Salle in 2018, but went on to the regionals and won the CIF D1-A state title with a 19-17 victory over Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. The runner-up rule was soon discontinued and the new way of the CCS and NCS sending its second-best teams to the regionals as a champion was initiated.
Serra of San Mateo has won the CCS Open Division title the past two seasons and is a big favorite to make it three in a row in 2023. But this season, remember, the second-best CCS team is going to have a mechanism to get into a regional bowl game as well. While this could then create the very real possibility of a game, for example, between Pitt and St. Francis of Mountain View for a NorCal bowl game, the other impact is that other teams from other sections winning titles will all be lower on the NorCal side of the CIF bowl games than before. In the seeding system that the state uses, everybody slides down one spot when teams like Pitt and St. Francis are added in.
Let’s just hope the Southern Section doesn’t think this bracket-splitting format of the NCS and CCS is a good idea. We’d then have not one but two CIF state title game blowouts because the loser of the annual St. John Bosco-Mater Dei clash for the CIFSS D1 title would obliterate any other teams it would face and also would win a state title every year. What to do about the Bosco-MD dominance of the rest of the state, however, is a different issue and requires an entirely different solution.
Sac-Joaquin Section Divisions
There’s another perhaps more subtle change in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section format. In the SJS for many years, if a team from a league designated as Division I were to win the league title then that team would move up into the next highest division. This year, that rule is gone. Teams in the SJS already know which divisions they are going to be in before the season starts based on enrollment and on a method of teams moving up if they have continued success.
Teams like St. Mary’s of Stockton that have tended to be D1 in the SJS before because of winning its league title are now D2 (and wouldn’t be in the same section playoffs as perennial power Folsom). Since Grant of Sacramento hasn’t moved up from D3 after winning the CIF D3-AA state title last season and is currently ranked No. 2 in the Sacramento Bee’s Metro Area rankings (only Folsom is higher), there’s a very good chance that the top three divisional winners from the Sac-Joaquin are going to all be highly ranked squads in the state overall.
Combined with another new team on the NorCal side of the CIF regional lineup (2nd best from the CCS), all of that is going to make it very, very likely that in order for the CIF to balance out the brackets north and south that the top teams from the CIF Central Section will be in the south this season (even if its not a team from Bakersfield).
It might even be a bigger issue for the state games, however, in the lower divisions of the SJS. A school like Sonora would not have moved up last year into the same division as Escalon and instead of losing to Escalon in the final seconds of the D5 section championship the Wildcats might have won it in D6 and then they perhaps would be celebrating the CIF state title instead of Hughson, which won in last season’s D5-AA final over Muir of Pasadena.
No More Rain, Mud Games For The CIF
We’re not sure if the CIF would have ever changed its policy of schools being able to host their own state championship games in football, but they have had to do it now for this season after the state senate got a bill passed from Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) and it was signed into law.
This came about primarily because of the outcry from some schools, particularly Shafter of the CIF Central Section, having to play CIF state title games on muddy fields during rainstorms at a place like Orland. Schools like Orland do not have all-weather fields.
The passed bill reads as follows:
(a) The California Interscholastic Federation shall hold all state football championship games at a neutral location that is comparable to the location of all other championship games. (b) For purposes of this section, a “neutral location” means a venue or site that is not the home ground of either team.
In other words, the CIF will likely be using junior college venues with all-weather playing surfaces for NorCal based state finals (which are those for D3-AA and below). The bill didn’t specify it has to be a junior college, however, so a high school like Lincoln of Stockton (right off a major freeway and a great place to watch a game) could technically be used as well.
Another possibility due to this new state law is that the CIF could look into doing doubleheaders at a venue like Sacramento City College for lower division state football finals. San Jose City College or Diablo Valley College also would seem to be places that would make sense as possible sites. All it says in the CIF blue pages is that home sites are to be determined.