CIF top division state fb finals may split

This is example of playing conditions that were endured by players from Shafter & Orland during last season’s CIF D5-A state final. Photo:

The California Interscholastic Federation released more details this week about how it will conduct upcoming state football championships under a new format in which all of the title games will be played at one of three junior colleges in Southern California.

We hope you enjoy this free post on To join our Gold Club to get all new state rankings, state record updates and all of the all-state team announcements, CLICK HERE.

Last April, the CIF voted to no longer have schools host a state championship and instead all state finals would be played at one of three different neutral sites.

The 2022 title games for the Open Division, D1-AA, D1-A, D2-AA and D2-A were all played at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Saddleback also was the site for those five divisions in 2021. Prior to that, there were two years at Cerritos College with no state finals in 2020 (pandemic), three years at Sacramento State and then prior to that all of the top divisional games from 2006 to 2014 were held at what is now called the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. The CIF did not have state football from 1927 through 2005.

For all of the divisions below D2-A, beginning with D3-AA and going down to D7-A, all of the games in the last few years since 2018 were hosted by schools in the north. Prior to that, when the top divisions were playing at Sacramento State, schools in the south hosted state finals, although some schools in the CIF Central Section could have hosted north or south.

Those in the CIF have said that the organization was already moving toward eliminating host schools having state championship games at its home fields before some of the games last season in places such as Orland, Hughson and elsewhere were turned into mudbaths due to rainy weather. Many small schools, not just in the north but in the south too, just do not have all-weather turf fields.

Still, some of the outcry among schools that had to play in those conditions enticed some in the state legislature to get involved. SB-486 from State Senator Melissa Hurtado was introduced last February that requires “football state championship games, for all divisions, at neutral locations comparable to one another, ensuring equity, dignity, respect and player safety for every student athlete privileged to play in a championship game.”

The bill, which was passed by the senate and legislature in September but not yet signed into law, also stipulates that all schools be given the opportunity to play in a “college” stadium. Since the CIF itself went ahead with a plan last April to place each one of its state football finals at a junior college venue (one of three) the actual legislation and law may not be needed. Even if not signed, the message of it was clear and it was heard.

The new details that the CIF released on Tuesday of this week is that the three championship sites will be Saddleback College, El Camino College in Torrance and Pasadena City College. Saddleback had refurbished its stadium recently and it is a fine place to have CIF state finals with a seating capacity of more than 8,000. El Camino is close to that and is a place we’ve seen CIF Southern Section championship games before. The Mater Dei-St. John Bosco regular season game in 2017 also was played there. Pasadena is smaller, but at more than 5,000 clearly is big enough to host state finals compared to small schools having it at home sites.

The first response for those up north is that it won’t be fair to have all of the state finals in the south. In following the CIF for more than 45 years, however, in the big picture and for all sports combined the north-south championship venues have evened out. In boys and girls basketball, for example, all CIF state finals are played in the north (in recent years at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento). The two biggest CIF sections in the north also do not use competitive equity seeding for its playoffs like they do throughout the south (Southern, LA City, San Diego). The north teams may have won a lot of those state finals in the lower divisions they’ve been winning in recent years no matter where they were played.

There also may be an assumption that all of the top divisional games will all continue to be held at Saddleback College. That is not the case. It was confirmed on Wednesday by Brian Seymour, the associate director of the CIF who is the primary point person for the football championships, that the CIF will consider placing higher divisional games at either El Camino College or Pasadena City College.

St. John Bosco played games at El Camino College during 2016 and 2017 seasons before Panish Family Stadium was opened in 2018. Photo: @boscofootball/

The example that we came up with to present to the CIF to ask about this possibility was for D1-A from just two years ago when Serra of Gardena defeated Liberty of Bakersfield at Saddleback College. It may not be good for some folks in the media like Cal-Hi Sports who want to watch as many of the top divisional teams as possible, but a Serra game vs Liberty at El Camino College would have been much better for anyone driving down from Bakersfield and of course it’s a great place for Serra fans (just a few miles in fact from the Serra campus).

“We are leaving some flexibility with this new format of three sites,” Seymour wrote in an email. “And yes, if we do have a potential matchup between teams that has a school that is close to one of the three sites, we would look at a flexible schedule.”

With Saddleback so close in South Orange County to schools in San Diego, one can assume that perhaps any CIF San Diego Section school that goes to a CIF state football final would be playing there. That would have applied last year to Lincoln (D1-A), Mater Dei Catholic (D2-AA) or Granite Hills of El Cajon (D2-A), who all played at Saddleback, but Classical Academy of Escondido (D6-AA) probably would have played at Saddleback as well under this new format with one of the other games (St. John Bosco vs Serra of San Mateo or Liberty of Bakersfield vs Pittsburg) played at El Camino.

“It’s not great for the media, but it may make sense for the teams and their fans,” Seymour added about the flexibility of playing top division games at different site. “Onward we go.”

This new method of hosting state football finals also is only going to be for a one-year trial period, a fact mentioned by Seymour in a article this week in the San Jose Mercury-News.

The guess here is that it’s likely going to work well. It will be a major step forward for any teams, especially those from small schools, to have to wonder about mud bowls or their fans not even being able to buy tickets for a small school sized home field.

Everyone in Southern California talks about traffic all the time and anything the CIF can do to help limit the time spent going to a game will have to be considered. We’d think most teams from the Inland Empire, for example, would prefer Pasadena City College to the other two places, although it’s about the same distance from San Jacinto (lost in last year’s D3-AA) to El Camino as it is to Pasadena.

It also may not be possible in some years for the CIF to accommodate every school that is playing for a CIF state title. Last year, for example, it would not have been possible to have all of the CIF San Diego Section schools have their games at Saddleback as well as Laguna Hills and Northwood of Irvine (both Orange County) unless Bosco-Serra was played at El Camino.

Due to this new way of placing teams into state finals at one of the three venues, we know the CIF also is going to ask all schools to declare their intentions of whether they intend to opt out of the CIF regional games before the start of their section playoffs. Before this year, teams could decide as late as the night they had won their section title whether they would opt out or not. We’ve already started looking at mileage between certain towns and Pasadena, Torrance and Mission Viejo and we know the CIF will have to start doing that earlier in the process as well.

It will indeed be tough for us to decide where to go on the Friday and Saturday of the CIF state finals moving forward. The good news may be, however, is that it’s not a sure thing anymore to have to be there for the Open Division (which has been a lopsided rout in recent years and probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future). We’ll have our thoughts about how the CIF and CIF Southern Section could aid in fixing that situation next week.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:

Enjoy this article?

Find out how you can get access to more exclusive content, one-of-a-kind California high school sports content!

Learn More

One Comment

  1. Mike Ray
    Posted October 5, 2023 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Need to use Sacramento State, UC Davis and San Jose State in 2024. Or, Buchanan High, Modesto JC and Hughes Stadium.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


    Latest News

    Insider Blog