Explaining the new Southern Section football playoff format

St. John Bosco players and coaches celebrate bowl victory in 2019.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Get ready for culture shock when the Southern Section announces its football playoff brackets following the end of the regular season at the end of this month.

For years, there was a policy to avoid at all costs matching league teams against each other until the semifinals. That ends because the Southern Section is switching to a true seeding, regardless of whether an opponent comes from the same league in the first round. computer rankings will be used. There will be at least 216 playoff berths covering 14 divisions.


Here’s everything you need to know about how the playoffs will be decided.


As of today, teams are not assigned to divisions, and they won’t be until Oct. 30, the day after the end of the regular season. There will be 14 divisions. rankings will determine both the divisional breakdown and seeding within the divisions.

Automatic berths

Automatic berths will be earned as in the past, with two berths from leagues of four or five teams and three from leagues of six to eight teams. In years past, some third-place teams that would otherwise have earned automatic playoff berths were “bumped” if there were more than 16 automatic qualifiers in a division. That will not occur under the new system because the division lines are flexible.

Division 1

While the Southern Section has not determined how many teams will be placed in Division 1, it seems most likely there will be an eight-team field in the top division. These will be the top eight teams in the power ratings after the final week of the regular season. Teams will be matched up by ranking regardless of league finish or affiliation — No. 8 at No. 1, No. 5 at No. 4, No. 6 at No. 3, and No. 7 at No. 2 in the case of an eight-team bracket.

This assumes that the team at #9 in the rankings is a team with an automatic berth. If not, Division 2 would start with the next highest-ranked team with an automatic berth, and the at-large team(s) above that point would be added to the Division 1 bracket -- if #9 is an at-large, they’d play a first-round game at #8, if #10 is also an at-large, they’d play a first-round game at #7.”

These are the rankings going into Week 7: 1. Mater Dei; 2. Servite; 3. St. John Bosco; 4. Corona Centennial; 5. Mission Viejo; 6. Sierra Canyon; 7. Norco; and 8. Santa Margarita.

The biggest night of the high school football season happened on Friday, and the games lived up to expectations.

Oct. 4, 2021

Divisions 2-14

The remaining automatic qualifiers will be distributed evenly across the other 13 divisions, with about 13 automatic qualifiers in each one. (It may not be exactly 13 in every one depending on the total number of automatic qualifiers). Using 13 for purposes of illustration:

— If there are eight teams in Division 1, Division 2 would start with the No. 9 team in the Calpreps rankings. They would then go down the rankings, starting at No. 9, noting automatic qualifiers. The first 13 automatic qualifiers would be in Division 2, and a line would be drawn immediately above the next automatic qualifier.


— With 13 automatic berths in the division, the three highest-rated teams in the division that have not earned automatic berths will be at-large teams. If there are not at least three at-large teams in the division and thus there are fewer than 16 teams, the line that was drawn in the previous step would be moved down to add enough teams to put 16 in Division 2.

— The 16 teams in Division 2 will be seeded 1-16 according to the Calpreps rankings. First-round bracketing is standard (1-16, 8-9, 5-12, 4-13, 3-14, 6-11, 7-10, 2-15), with the higher seed hosting. Home teams in subsequent rounds will be determined by the usual CIF-SS method — whoever has had fewer home playoff games gets to host; there is a coin flip if each has hosted the same number of games.

The rivalry between San Pedro and Banning high school football is generations old. One week a year they “hate each other,” the others they work together.

Oct. 3, 2021

— Remember that line they drew to designate the “end” of Division 2? That’s the “start” of Division 3. The first team below that line will be the No. 1 seed, and they’ll count down the next 13 automatic qualifiers inclusive of that team, and draw a line above the next one. Those 13 automatic qualifiers along with the three best at-large teams in the division will constitute the Division 3 field. And then they’d be seeded and bracketed, and repeat this whole drill 11 more times for Divisions 4-14.

— Caveat — though 13 automatic qualifiers per division were used here for illustrative purposes, that will likely NOT be the exact number for every division. That is dependent on the total number of automatic qualifiers, the size of the Division 1 field, whether any at-large teams qualify for Division 1 and whether any at-large teams need to be “moved up” to fill divisions out to 16 teams. Somebody is inevitably going to try to out-guess the football committee and be wrong in their projections; this is a warning for them.