Column

At what point does it lessen the honor to dilute playoff competition?

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider
There are so many teams making high school playoffs that mismatches happen

Too many trophies and too many banners are being awarded in high school sports.

In 1975, there were four boys' basketball playoff divisions in the Southern Section. Now there are 12. There was one City Section division. Now there are six.

Yes, there are more schools. The Southern Section has grown from 402 schools playing basketball to 576; the City Section from 49 to 132.

There also seems to be a policy that everybody deserves recognition.

You see it in all-league teams that used to be limited to five players. Those teams have doubled or tripled in size, sometimes with more than one player of the year. Usually that's done so coaches don't hear complaints from parents or players.

You see it in teams making the playoffs without winning a league game. This season, there was a playoff game matching San Juan Capistrano JSerra, 0-10 in the Trinity League, against La Cañada St. Francis, 0-12 in the Mission League.

There are so many teams making the playoffs that mismatches happen. A soccer team won, 26-0. A girls' basketball team won, 79-20. A girls' water polo team won, 18-2. People get upset when scores are one-sided, but no one should be surprised considering how many mediocre teams are allowed into the playoffs.

John Aguirre, commissioner of the City Section, said the goal was to "provide the opportunities to participate to put some positive things" in the lives of the student-athletes.

It's true that if you look at the faces of the competitors among the small schools in Division 6, they're no different than the ones in Division 1. The celebrations are the same, the sense of accomplishment is the same.

But the truth is, there is a huge difference in the quality of the playoffs from years ago, when it was much tougher to make the playoffs.

A look at the 1975 All-CIF AAAA team in boys' basketball provides a powerful indication of what it must have been like matching best against best.

On the 10-man first team were seven future NBA players: Reggie Theus (Inglewood), David Greenwood (Verbum Dei), Bill Laimbeer (Palos Verdes), Paul Mokeski (Crespi), Brad Holland (Crescenta Valley), James Hardy (Long Beach Jordan) and Roy Hamilton (Verbum Dei). An eighth, Rich Branning (Marina), was a fourth-round NBA draft pick. Sportswriters picked the teams then, and they sure got that one right.

The new Open divisions in the Southern Section and the City Section are as close as you can get to recapturing the days when you really had to be very good to win an upper-level championship, from the first game to the last.

But wait until the end of this season, when the Open Division All-CIF teams are chosen by the coaches. The complaints will come in fast and furious when top players from very good teams don't make it and lesser players from smaller divisions do. Of course, they can always add so many players to the All-CIF teams that seemingly everyone makes it.

It's a dilemma. It's good to allow as many teams to participate in the playoffs as possible and honor numerous athletes, but at what point does it lessen the honor by diluting the competition?

The answer from the schools is clear:

Schools love winning titles, and the more the merrier.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

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