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CIF Southern Section Council approves format change for football playoff divisions

Corona del Mar quarterback Ethan Garbers throws a pass against Grace Brethren in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title game at Newport Harbor High on Nov. 29, 2019.
Corona del Mar quarterback Ethan Garbers throws a pass against Grace Brethren in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title game at Newport Harbor High on Nov. 29, 2019.
(Christine Cotter)

The CIF Southern Section Council overwhelmingly approved a proposal Thursday that would restructure the section football playoffs.

At a council meeting held via teleconference, leagues voted 80-4 to implement a new format where playoff divisions would be determined at the end of the regular season, based on a team’s in-season performance. The CIF playoff divisions are currently determined prior to the season, with the exception of Divisions 1 and 2.

Representatives from local leagues all voted in favor of the proposal. The Bay, Marmonte, Pioneer and Valle Vista leagues voted against it, while six leagues abstained.

The CIF Southern Section will use rankings from calpreps.com at the end of the 2020 regular season to place automatic qualifiers and possible at-large entries into each of the 14 divisions.

If the system would have been in place last year, CIF Southern Section Division 3 champion Corona del Mar would have been in Division 1 and faced Bellflower St. John Bosco in the first round. St. John Bosco ended up winning the Division 1 title in 2019.

CdM was ranked No. 7 among Southern Section teams by CalPreps at the end of the regular season, so it would have made the eight-team Division 1 bracket.

“I’m a huge supporter of it,” CdM coach Dan O’Shea said. “I think it’s a great idea. It’s certainly a more fair and responsible way [to group teams]. Teams that are in Division 2, Division 3, Division 4, the teams you’re going to be playing are the exact same ranking as you. Based on the algorithms, they’re considered equal, so whoever plays well that night wins. It’s not like somebody picked up nine transfers and is going to blow out everybody in the playoffs.”

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Newport Harbor coach Peter Lofthouse, whose team advanced to the Division 9 semifinals, correctly said the Sailors would have missed CIF entirely under this new format. They would have been in Division 6 last year and wouldn’t have earned one of three at-large berths into the postseason as the fourth-place team from the Sunset League.

“There’s definitely an emphasis being placed on those automatic bids,” Lofthouse said. “I think the one positive of it is going to be that league games are going to take on a whole greater emphasis, because getting those automatic bids is going to be critical to making the playoffs. With the Sunset League, it’s great teams from top to bottom. We’ve seen five teams that have made the playoffs the last two years. It’ll be interesting to see with this new proposal, if it’s just the automatic bids that will make it, because getting at-large bids will be very challenging.”

Ocean View lost in the first round of the Division 12 playoffs to eventual champion El Monte 60-21. If the new system would have been in place last year, El Monte would have been in Division 6, while Ocean View would have stayed in Division 12.

"[This new system] benefits us, I think,” Ocean View coach Luis Nuñez said. “Obviously, we’re a small school. We have 1,200 students at Ocean View. For us, making the playoffs is not easy. It’s not a guarantee. We’ve been part of the lower divisions with 40, 50, 70 schools. We’re hoping this helps us out, so we don’t get stuck playing a team who gets transfers. It’s happened where teams are winning Division 13 titles because they got transfers who quickly turn around their football team.”

The most debated item at Thursday’s CIF Southern Section council meeting involved whether the section should allow cheerleading teams to compete in national championships which would fall on a Sunday. After debate, the proposal to allow the teams an exemption to compete on Sunday narrowly passed 46-39, with five leagues abstaining.

The council also approved a proposal that would make CIF swimming divisional placement by school and gender, rather than by what league a team is in.

Section commissioner Rob Wigod closed the meeting by saying there is no haste to cancel any fall sports during the coronavirus pandemic, adding that “all options are on the table.”

“Our schools are going to be opening at different times around our section,” Wigod said. “Once they are open and begin the academic year, they’re also going to have decisions to make about when to bring practices back for their athletic teams ... Our task and huge challenge would be to monitor that so that at some point, we’d be able implement a calendar that would have regular season and championship competition in it.”

James Perry, the Huntington Beach Union High School District athletic director, was voted as the president-elect for the CIF Southern Section Executive Committee.

Marina High athletic director Michelle Spencer was elected as the Executive Committee’s girls’ athletic director representative.

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