By Steve Breazeale
The high school sports postseason will have a different look next fall, as the CIF Southern Section, the prep sports governing body in the Southland, released its much-anticipated new fall sports playoff groupings on June 17.
The groupings are the result of a dramatic re-structuring of the way programs are evaluated and placed come playoff time and are now based off a power rankings-style point system that separates programs into several divisions based on past performance, strength of schedule and postseason performance.
The new competitive equity-based system was approved by the CIF-SS in January and will take effect in the fall. Football, boys water polo, girls tennis and girls volleyball are the fall sports that will be affected by the change. New playoff groupings for winter and spring sports will be released later in the year.
Under the old playoff structure, teams in one league played against their league counterparts in the postseason. Now, each individual team has been placed in a division (separate from their regular season league) that it will compete in in the playoffs. For example, the San Clemente High School football team has been placed in Division 2 for the upcoming season. The Tritons will compete in the South Coast League against Mission Viejo and Tesoro, two programs that have been moved to Division 1. The three teams will still play each other in the regular season but would not see each other in the postseason.
The CIF-SS used a points-based system to create the new playoff divisions. The system factors in a team’s regular season record, strength of schedule and playoff performance over a two-year period. The CIF-SS used results from the 2014 and 2015 seasons to create the new divisions for the 2016 fall season. Once the 2016 season is over, the 2014 results will no longer be used in the calculation and the CIF-SS will compile new data and restructure the divisions annually.
Not every sport used the same power rankings formula. One of the three determining factors could be weighed more favorably depending on the sport.
In a slideshow presented to CIF-SS member-schools earlier this year, CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod stated that the No. 1 issue, and cause for the new system, was the need for a level playing field across the board for all sports.
All sports, except football, will continue awarding playoff spots to programs under the old model. All four-member leagues will have two guaranteed playoff bids and five- to six-member leagues will get three guaranteed playoff entries. The CIF-SS will still utilize wild card games and/or at-large berths to fill standard 32-team brackets. For football, each playoff grouping will feature a 16-team bracket. Football league champions and runners-up will receive automatic playoff entries in four- to five-member leagues.
As a result of finishing runners-up in the CIF-SS Southwest Division (formerly Division 3) in back-to-back seasons, the San Clemente football team was understandably promoted to Division 2 this offseason. The Tritons join El Toro and La Habra as the only Orange County programs in Division 2. San Clemente will continue to face regional rivals in the regular season but if they reach the postseason, they could potentially face an opponent they know very little about and have to travel long distances for those games.
“I think it’s a lot of wait and see. I think coaches like stability and knowing what’s going to happen in the future and with the (new) format it could change year-to-year,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said. “Geographically, it’s different. There are some good football teams in our division but I know it’s going to be competitive and it’s a fun opportunity.”
The San Clemente boys water polo team has been placed in Division 3 after appearing in the Division 2 Championships in 2015. The girls tennis and girls volleyball teams remain in Division 1.