MD & Bosco Should Go National At End

Ajon Bryant (left) gets a lift from a teammate after scoring for Mater Dei during 2021 win against St. John Bosco. Bryant is still a senior on this year’s team. At right, graduated St. John Bosco QB Pierce Clarkson celebrates during 2022 CIF Open Division state final. Photos: @MDFootball / & Scott Kurtz /

CIF Open Division state championship also should match a newly devised CIF Southern Section champion – let’s call it D1A – against the No. 1 ranked section champ from the north. As the state’s top two teams for seven of the last eight years battle it out this weekend, go through this column and let us know what you think.

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In the world of the California Interscholastic Federation and in a majority of the CIF sections, especially the massive CIF Southern Section, it’s all about competitive equity. That is the method of conducting playoffs to avoid mismatches and creating close matchups throughout the entirety of any playoff bracket.

So what does the CIF do or what can be done at all for one of the biggest competitive equity mismatches of them all? That’s of course the St. John Bosco and Mater Dei (Santa Ana) football teams obliterating all opponents in front of them (other than when playing each other). Sure, there was one year (2021) when Servite of Anaheim had a squad that notched a win over Bosco and had a lead in a close game against Mater Dei in the first of two matchups it played the Monarchs. Other than that, though, since 2016, when this current era of dominance by the Braves and Monarchs began, no one has been close.

In the CIF Open Division state finals, which matches the top-ranked team from Northern California against the best from the South, it was 44-0 last season when the Braves played previously unbeaten Serra of San Mateo. There was one year that De La Salle of Concord lost by a somewhat respectable 35-21 score in the 2018 final to Mater Dei, but the gap between the big two and the rest of the state has been getting wider, not closer.

Joseph Latu of San Mateo Serra runs the ball against the super-tough defense of St. John Bosco during 2022 CIF Open Division final. Photo: Scott Kurtz.

Those two super teams don’t just dominate California, either. Although Bosco dropped a game this year to Kahuku of Hawaii, for some of the last eight years they have also been really the top two teams in the nation as evidenced by how they do against nationally ranked teams from other states. There are perhaps only two schools nationally in general that can get close to them – IMG Academy of Florida and Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas. Like MD and Bosco, those two programs attract and collect top prospects from everywhere.

This isn’t meant to demean anything that California’s top two teams have done. The parents have every right to seek them out. The coaching is extraordinary from Jason Negro and his staff at St. John Bosco to Frank McManus and the staff at Mater Dei. Frank is in his first season after the retirement of the legendary Bruce Rollinson.

It’s just the current way that the season ends for those teams and for the other team that has to face them is just so hard to watch. So what can the CIF do about it? Change transfer rules so that players can’t move between schools so easily? Wait around until some other school or schools starts to get a bunch of players similarly and thus create more competition? One move would seem to fly in the face of parents’ rights. The other just may take too much time but Sierra Canyon this season has definitely jumped up into the mix of top projected CIFSS D1 schools with a transfer QB, two elite transfer receivers and other players.

Here’s one possibility: Let Bosco and Mater Dei play IMG or Bishop Gorman or perhaps another emerging similar national program that is doing the transfer/go-get-the-top-recruits model in a nationally televised event after their second matchup each season, which has tended to be in the CIFSS D1 championship game.

The CIF implemented a rule in 2018 that barred any member from playing IMG Academy as a response partly to the Florida-based program landing players from Southern California high schools. That rule could be amended to allow a contact with IMG Academy in a proposed national high school football event at the end of the season.

This concept also applies to both Mater Dei and Bosco because the loser of the annual CIFSS D1 championship game would dominate any team it would play in a CIF Open Division final as well. The winner would simply play the next highest ranked national team with the loser also getting an extra national game. Having them play a third time wouldn’t make much sense, but each of them getting a national game does make sense.

Would it have been QB Malachi Nelson and team at Los Al that would have won a projected CIFSS D1A title last year or Mission Viejo? Photo: Mark Tennis / Cal-Hi Sports.

Assuming a national event with Bosco and Mater Dei would be on TV, one also would assume that the CIF and its member schools could be given some TV dollars as part of the deal to make it happen.

So if the big two were out of the picture, how would that affect the CIF Open Division state championship? We have a solution for that, too. When MD and Bosco are playing in their section title game, the two other semifinalists would be playing in what could be called the CIFSS D1A championship game. The winner of that game, which last year would have been between Los Alamitos and Mission Viejo, would then go to the Open Division state final.

Two CIF sections – the North Coast and Central Coast – already have a mechanism with the way they do brackets so that essentially the second-best teams in those sections can go to the NorCal regional bowls as a section champ. This satisfies a CIF rule that only section champions can win a CIF regional or state title. The winner of a matchup between the CIFSS D1 semifinalists and being called the CIFSS D1A champion getting a spot would be similar.

Serra of San Mateo last season still might have had trouble with either Los Al (if the Griffins were healthy) or Mission Viejo, but it wouldn’t have been 44-0 and definitely would have been much closer to the competitive equity ideals that the CIF and the CIFSS so highly covet.

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.

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  1. Fumble
    Posted October 12, 2023 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Completely agree with this idea but for another reason. With the current SSD1 format, after the Open Game the NorCal second best team is playing the 8th or 9th best team (usually San Diego champ) because all best Socal teams knocked out in SSD1. Would make all the Bowl games better by upping the SoCal teams in lower levels.

  2. phil60
    Posted October 13, 2023 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting idea, but in some years neither may be ranked 1 or 2 nationally, removing some of the luster. And the State CIF has in the past shown reluctance to allow California teams to “go national” at the end of a season, particularly in basketball. Regardless, I for one would not mind to see something like this.
    Another possibility would be to have the Open state final be between them every year. They would be playing twice – in their league and in the Open. This year in D-1AA we could get Serra vs. Clovis North in the north and Centennial or Sierra Canyon vs. Lincoln or Carlsbad in the south.
    Or, simply have each of them playing a national schedule and remove them from the state playoffs. Admittedly, this would be pretty drastic, but I believe they have some of their players from other states anyway.

  3. phil60
    Posted October 13, 2023 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Whoops! Did Centennial just lose?

    • phil60
      Posted October 16, 2023 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Where did that come from?

      • Mark Tennis
        Posted October 16, 2023 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        Not sure what you are referring to?

  4. Marcel Viens
    Posted October 16, 2023 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s time we rethink our national obsession with being #1. These are high school students. Their primary focus should be on successful academics followed by college and quality careers. Why are we obsessed with feeding the ego of those who consistently violate the spirit of sport?

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted October 18, 2023 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I think the obsession is only at a few schools. Your thoughts are exactly why De La Salle and Serra do not go out and get players like others do. They know they won’t have a chance in that last game and that’s okay. The accomplishment for them is getting there and seeing what they can do in such a situation.

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