CIF basketball Open Division selection is a head-scratcher

Despite printed criteria, the process fails to pick the best teams in Southern California and Northern California for the state playoffs, and several divisions are weakened.

The California Interscholastic Federation released its state basketball playoff pairings Sunday night, and let's just say a public relations disaster is brewing regarding its new Open Division selection process.

"It's terrible. It's ridiculous," said Mark Tennis, editor of Cal-Hi Sports, in criticizing the execution of the selections.

The Open Division was envisioned as a way to bring together the state's top teams regardless of their enrollment or division placement. There were criteria printed on how teams would be selected in Southern California and Northern California, but the CIF didn't do a good job educating schools, administrators or sportswriters.

"I'm not complaining I'm in," said Bellflower St. John Bosco Coach Derrick Taylor about the selection of the Braves to the Open Division. "I'm baffled by the method they selected."

St. John Bosco, which won the Southern Section 3A title, was chosen as one of four Southern Section teams to be in the Open Division and will play host to Long Beach Poly on Friday night in a marquee opening game of the seven-team Southern California regional.

The criteria that got St. John Bosco picked for the Open Division instead of Division III were that the Braves qualified for the regional final last season and are considered one of the top teams in Southern California.

"It is a joke," Taylor said. "Criteria means nothing. They originally said we didn't meet the criteria to be in the Open Division. They had no idea how to do this. They should have scrapped the whole thing. They've gutted the whole state tournament. How can you place any value on any division outside the Open Division?"

Two City Section teams were chosen for the Open Division. Division I champion Westchester will play at Fresno Bullard, with the winner facing top-seeded Etiwanda. And, in the big surprise, Division I runner-up Woodland Hills El Camino Real was chosen for the Open Division.

El Camino Real wanted no part of the Open Division, and rightfully so. The Conquistadores won the City Division II title last season for their first title in school history. They lost in the Division I final Saturday night to Westchester and suddenly get to play Santa Ana Mater Dei on the road Friday night instead of going to what looks like a wide-open Division I tournament that has been gutted of top teams.

It's not only the boys' teams complaining. In Northern California's Open Division girls' regional, Stockton Brookside Christian, a Division V team, was selected to face top-seeded Oakland Bishop O'Dowd in the opening round. Brookside Christian lost to Bishop O'Dowd, 70-39, on Jan. 19.

Only six girls' teams were selected for the Open Division in Southern California, with Los Angeles Windward seeded No. 1.

Etiwanda is probably the happiest girls' team of all. The Eagles, who upset Mater Dei in the 1AA semifinals, weren't selected for the Open Division. They're in Division I and won't have to face Mater Dei, Windward or Corona Santiago, the 1AA champion.

So the bottom line is this: Several state divisions have been seriously weakened and there's a big question whether it was really worth it, because the Open Division doesn't have the eight best teams in Southern California or Northern California competing.

How can Torrance Bishop Montgomery with a 29-1 record and wins over Westchester and St. John Bosco be in Division IV instead of the Open Division? The Knights didn't meet the criteria. Yes, there's a PR problem.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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