Tom Pack, Fallbrook High School coach, said there is little doubt that Vista's football team would have been awarded an at-large berth if its coach, Dick Haines, had attended the San Diego Section playoff seeding meeting two weeks ago.
"The bottom line is that Vista would have been selected," said Pack, the Palomar League representative on the nine-member advisory board that heard discussion from potential at-large coaches.
Haines, however, elected not to attend the meeting. Selected over Vista (6-4) in the 3-A division were San Dieguito (6-4), Orange Glen (6-3-1), Granite Hills (5-5) and Patrick Henry (4-5).
Helix Coach Jim Arnaiz, who represents the Grossmont 3-A League, said Haines should have been at the meeting to explain his team's special circumstances, such as injured players.
"I think if Dick had been there and had given a strong appeal, it would have had an effect," Arnaiz said. "I think being there does give the (advisory board members) some insight."
Said Haines: "I wasn't there, and my hindsight said I should have been. But that doesn't mean I would have (received a berth). I probably wouldn't have . . . What Jim Arnaiz is saying is, 'If you're not here, we're going to cheat you.' I guess they cheated me."
Haines said he didn't attend the meeting because there is no rule requiring a coach to appear before the advisory board. Coaches receiving playoff berths, however, had to be at Francis Parker High School, site of the 8 a.m. advisory meeting, by 9:30 to exchange game films.
Haines' failure to attend the meeting appears to be the root of the controversy that has resulted in Vista missing the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Next season, the section will require coaches to be present to argue for a berth, according to Kendall Webb, San Diego Section commissioner, who has the final decision on at-large berths.
Webb said that the Section Coordinating Council will vote at the end of the season on what the new policy will be regarding at-large selections.
"We are going to make it definite to what we want," Webb said. "The suggestion is that all outright third-place teams will be considered automatically for at-large selection unless a school says they don't want to participate.
"Conversely, any school that is not an outright third-place (finisher) must be in attendance if they wish to be considered for an at-large selection."
This is the second year that the at-large process has been used. In the past, only the top two teams from each league advanced to the playoffs. Last season, Fallbrook gained an at-large berth and eventually won the 3-A section title.
"I had to stand up in front of the committee last year," Pack said. "I doubt if we would have gone to the playoffs if I hadn't."
Webb said he never expected any problems with the at-large selection process.
"I didn't anticipate anyone who is being considered for an at-large berth not being (at the meeting)," Webb said.
But then the question arises of whether a coach with superior public-speaking skills can more easily sell his team's merits to the advisory committee.
"I don't think that the public speaking ability of a coach would enter into the evaluation of his peers," Webb said. "They (advisory board members) are professional enough to weigh the quality of the team, not the quality of the speaker."
The reason a coach would appear before the committee is to outline the special circumstances that would effect the team's record, such as injured or ineligible players. In Vista's case, quarterback Billy Faraimo missed the final three games of the season with a knee injury and fullback David Strojny was deemed academically ineligible after the seventh game.
Webb, who makes the final decision based on these special circumstances along with criteria such as strength of schedule and common opponents, said he was not aware of Vista's situation. Haines has blamed Webb for Vista's absence from the playoffs.
"I am not an expert or extremely knowledgeable about the relative strengths of our teams in any sport," Webb said. "That is why we have a coaches' advisory committee in every sport."
Said Arnaiz: "You have to remember that we are an advisory committee. We could walk out of there and the commissioner could change the whole thing around. Nothing says we make the decision; we just make the recommendations."
But Haines objects to the idea that a coach who is on the board could help to decide his own opponent in the playoffs.
"Why should Tom Pack or Dick Haines or Jim Arnaiz sit on a board to pick people they are going to play?" Haines asked. "I'm not saying they cheated, but it's hard for anyone to be impartial."
Said Webb: "How can you eliminate that if you have one coach from each league on the committee? You are bound to be in that category. It's not a perfect process, but it's the best thing we can think of."
The San Diego Section will contribute $50 for each athlete or $250 for each team traveling to the state cross-country meet this weekend in Fresno, according to Webb.
"It won't pay for everything, but it will go a long way considering they never had this money before," Webb said.
Marian's request to move from the 2-A Metro-South Bay League to the 1-A Coastal/Desert League by next season appears as if it will be passed by the section's coordinating council at its next meeting Jan. 13.
The request received a big boost after both leagues voted to approve the move last week.
The South Bay would be left with four teams: Castle Park, Coronado, Hilltop and Mar Vista. That would mean the league would have only one automatic playoff berth, instead of two.
The move to the 1-A level would be for football only.