Southern Section Council approves competitive equity playoffs starting this fall

Southern Section Council approves competitive equity playoffs starting this fall
Mission Viejo quarterback Brock Johnson throws downfield aganst Norco in the second quarter on Sept. 18 at Mission Viejo High School. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The CIF Southern Section approved a new high-school playoff format Wednesday that its commissioner, Rob Wigod, said was "maybe the most significant change" in the more-than-100-years history of the organization.

Starting in the fall with football, teams will be placed in playoff divisions based on a power rankings formula that relies on the last two years of performance, including strength of schedule.

Previously, teams were placed in playoff divisions based on what league they played in. Basketball had already switched to competitive equity playoff groupings, and now the vast majority of the Southern Section's other sports will do the same.

League representatives voted 74-10 in favor of the proposal. It means schools in the Moore League that were stuck playing in the toughest football division because 19-time champion Long Beach Poly happened to be in the league will get relief.

Other schools, such as Mission Viejo, which won has won consecutive West Valley Division football titles, will be moved up into the toughest division.

Mission Viejo Coach Bob Johnson was a vocal opponent of the change because he doesn't believe his team should have to compete against those from private schools.

"They should put them in their own division," he said.

Newhall Hart football Coach Mike Herrington said, "There's a number of schools that have been successful and need to be brought up."

Four of the 10 CIF sections in the state — the Southern, Los Angeles City, Central and San Diego — will have competitive equity playoffs in the fall.

The Southern Section, with 582 member schools, is the state's largest section.

"I think this is a great step forward, and it is a wave of the future not only in California but nationally," said Roger Blake, executive director of the CIF. "It's a solution to open enrollment and the issues of transfers. The era of neighborhood schools is going away, so how do we still have competitive athletics and keep a level playing field? This is the right direction."

City Section Commissioner John Aguirre said his section's competitive equity playoffs resulted in schools that never had a chance to win a City title suddenly becoming competitive. In 2015, Belmont won its first football title in Division III and Lincoln won its first baseball title in Division II.

"I'm sold on competitive equity," Aguirre said. "It gives opportunities to schools that are traditionally not able to compete."

The new Southern Section football divisions won't be released until after August, and they will be revised each year.

"It has been looked at for a long time," said Burbank High's Matt La Belle, the Pacific League's representative. "There will need to be tweeks as it goes along, like basketball did, but we're excited to see how it will unfold."


Leagues that voted no were the Cross Valley, Agape, Baseline, Empire, Hacienda, Mojave River, Orange, Mt. Baldy, Southwestern and Victory.

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