THE HIGH SCHOOLS : Format Accord Carries a Downside

The City Section might have satisfied most of its football coaches when it agreed to maintain two divisions for the football playoffs next fall, but the ruling could create a monster headache for Commissioner Hal Harkness.

The decision reached at Monday's Interscholastic Athletics Committee meeting calls for a 12-team 4-A Division and a 37-team 3-A Division. All 12 4-A teams will qualify for the playoffs and 16 3-A teams will form a second bracket.

The 4-A Division will consist of the eight teams in the Northwest Valley Conference plus Pacific League members Banning, Carson, Crenshaw and Dorsey.

The Metro League of Fairfax, Hamilton, Manual Arts and Palisades, which competed in the 4-A Division last year, has been added to the other eight 3-A leagues, creating a logjam in the lower bracket. Nine first-place teams will gain playoff berths, but there is room for only seven second-place finishers; time constraints limit the City to a four-round tournament, allowing for a maximum 16 teams.

That means the City must decide which two second-place teams stay home. Harkness can think of better ways to spend an evening than making that call.

"It's hard enough just seeding a bracket and that's really getting frustrating," he said. "Seeding is imperfect at best."

Add football: IAC approved the plan after nearly two hours of discussion that included a report from Monroe Coach Dave Lertzman, who polled the City's 49 football coaches. His survey showed that 29 coaches favored two divisions, 11 supported a one-division format and nine were undecided.

The one-division plan had the support of Dorsey football Coach Paul Knox, an IAC member and president of the Los Angeles Coaches Assn. He argued that a 12-team division is too small to conduct a meaningful playoff and prevents the 4-A teams from seeing new teams in the playoffs. Dorsey, for example, will play two of its three nonleague games in 1990 against possible playoff foes Granada Hills and San Fernando.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not too surprised," he said. "I just hope we don't get stuck with a 12-team division forever. With no new teams, the playoffs aren't exciting."

Lertzman, the author of the current conference format, expressed relief that the two-division system was saved. As an example of the benefits, he cited the Monroe boys' volleyball team that won the City 3-A title last Friday.

"We had 300 people there cheering like crazy and they didn't care that it was 3-A," he said. "All they knew was that they were playing for a City title. Our kids are walking around school knowing they are City champions. That's brought a lot of pride to our school. I think it makes more sense educationally to have the two divisions."

Fast company: It would be understandable if Marion Jones had felt slightly out of place when she stepped into the starting blocks for the women's 100 meters at last Sunday's Jack in the Box Invitational at UCLA. The 14-year-old Rio Mesa High freshman toed the starting line with such track stars as Michelle Finn, a former collegiate champion, and 1986 World Junior champion Tina Iheagwan.

But don't expect any apologies from Jones.

"I was going into the race to win," said Jones, who just two days earlier had won the 100 and 200 to lead the Spartans to the Southern Section 3-A Division team title. "I'm never going into any race thinking I'll be happy with second or third."

Nevertheless, Jones appeared quite satisfied after finishing fourth in 11.67 seconds, .01 seconds off her personal best. Finn won in 11.41.

"I'll take it," she said.

Jones went into Sunday's meet aiming at Michele Glover's national age-group record of 11.63 and Brenda Wilson's freshman class record of 11.60. She will get her next shot at that record Friday in the Southern Section Masters Meet when she will face national leader Inger Miller of Pasadena Muir.

"My goal is to beat Inger Miller and if I beat her, I'm sure it'll be faster than 11.60," Jones said.

Staff writers Kevin Baxter and John Lynch contributed to this notebook.

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