YOU WANT STATE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS?

It would be something, as well as having even more state championships in other sports. There was even a meeting held recently in Los Angeles in conjunction with the CIF State Federated Council in which it was discussed. But unless the entire CIF gets realigned, none of it is likely ever to happen. Read on to see how we'd change things and how we'd organize a state football playoff system that might actually work.

Coaches, athletic directors and principals know all about realignments. Their schools go through it every two to four years and often it results in their teams being placed in new leagues and in different playoff divisions.

At the CIF state level, however, realignment has never happened. The state's 10 separate CIF sections have pretty much stayed in place since the newest section was formed -- the Central Coast Section -- more than 30 years ago.

The major structural flaw within the CIF is the existence of a massive Southern Section in Southern California and tiny sections like Oakland, San Francisco and the Northern Section in Northern California. That has never been fixed and you can go back all the way to 1914 for that.

None of those facts are new, so why are we mentioning it now? Because two weeks ago at a CIF Federated Council meeting in Los Angeles there was official discussion for the first time about a state football championship. A lot of prep writers around the state wrote columns about it, complete with the pros and cons of having such a playoff.

Actually, there have been state football playoffs in the past. The CIF conducted them from 1915 to 1927 and there were state title games from 1919 to 1927. Long Beach Poly was the first CIF state football champ for 1919 and Bakersfield was the last after the Drillers blanked Fullerton, 38-0, in 1927.

While it's commendable that some superintendents, athletic directors, principals and other CIF officials have begun to talk about feasibility, format and other aspects of a state football playoff -- as well as adding state championship events in other sports -- the reality of actual playoffs taking place is about the same as Barry Bonds being able to hit with first base open and runners on second and third.

We'd love to see state football playoffs as much as anybody, not to mention state championships in baseball, softball, golf, water polo, tennis, swimming and soccer. But the bigger picture of the CIF's structure and its purpose needs to be addressed first and altered drastically before anything else transpires. Simply put, the CIF needs major realignment.

Not Gonna Happen

State football playoff proposals will be dead in the water unless they can conduct the extra playoffs without having finalist teams play 16 or 17 games. Even a 15-game schedule for the last two teams in a playoff division will be a hard sell to many superintendents and principals who already think the football season is too long.

With many teams around the state already playing 14 games if they advance to their section finals, creating a state playoff with a 15-game limit would be nearly impossible.

Two possibilities for cutting down the current number of games for top teams would be: (1) reduce the number of teams within each section that currently qualifies for the playoffs or (2) slash the regular season for every team in the state by one game, from 10 to nine.

Like many football purists, we don't like all those first-round slaughters in the playoffs, either. But the schools getting slaughtered apparently do and the trend -- both in California and nationally -- is for more and more schools to enjoy "the playoff experience" even if that "experience" is watching the other team take its starters out before haltime. Therefore, the odds of cutting down the number of playoff teams in each section is slim.

It also would be a longshot to see the great majority of schools give up one of their currently scheduled games so that the elite powerhouse football schools could duke it out in a state playoff. The major purpose of high school sports, after all, is participation for all students and not just those from schools with the top teams.

Yet another roadblock to a state football playoff is the Southern Section. Officials there never want to see the prestige of their own championships diminished in any way and a state championship would do that.

Remember how difficult it was to get the Southern Section into the CIF state basketball playoffs in the early 1980s? The section even dropped out for one year in 1984. Thank goodness that in that season several teams in both the CIF state playoffs and in the Southern Section went unbeaten, which sparked a movement for the section to get back into it. If that hadn't happened, the Southern Section might still not be a part of the basketball playoffs.

Our CIF realignment

When most talk about realigning the CIF, the first move they point to is a much smaller Southern Section. We say make it even bigger.

There are a lot of things the Southern Section does very well. It's well-known around the country for its corporate sponsorship programs; its media relations office is as well-run as most state media relations offices; and its own realignment process seems to be fair and can add additional excitement to each season. This year's move of Newhall Hart to Division II and Ventura St. Bonaventure to Div. IV are two prime examples of that.

None of that should have to end with a realigned CIF. Instead, some of those things the Southern Section does so well should be copied as much as possible. A larger Southern Section would include all the current schools in the CIF L.A. City Section and all the current schools in the CIF San Diego Section.

This concept isn't meant to abolish those other two sections, either. They would remain as subsections within the larger Southern Section. Eight other subsections would also be created with this proposal. One would be mostly for schools in Orange County and another would be for schools in the Inland Empire. The six other subsections would be carved out from Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, although perhaps the SLO schools would prefer to be more aligned with schools over in Bakersfield rather than schools close to Los Angeles.

The larger Southern Section and its 10 subsections in Southern California would be matched by a large Northern Section with six subsections in Northern California. This, of course, defines Northern California as anywhere north of the Tehachapis and could include areas of what is geographically are now in the Southern Section. The subsections in the north would include the current San Francisco Section as part of the CCS and the current Oakland Section as part of the North Coast Section.

You will no doubt notice the difference in the number of subsections north vs. south in this proposal. This reflects the greater number of schools in the huge Los Angeles metro area than anyplace else and by dividing it 10-6 would create a system in which the north vs. south rivalry can stay in place. If you went more by an 8-8 split, you'd be in effect creating a system in which there would be a lot of schools in the south that wouldn't be making the playoffs while a greater percentage of schools in the north would be making the playoffs.

Our CIF football playoffs

With the state broken up in such a fashion, the possibilities for state playoffs in all sports are endless. Let's take football, for example.

From among the 16 subsections in the north and south, there are 32 teams that would make the playoffs in six divisions. They can be divided according to league strength or enrollment, but that's another completely different subject to debate. There also could be a super division for the big-time powerhouses like De La Salle, Long Beach Poly, etc. in which anybody wishing to go for it all could move up into.

California's elongated geography makes it impossible to conduct playoffs using seedings. You couldn't have a first-round game, for example, with No. 1 De La Salle hosting No. 32 Torrey Pines and asking Torrey Pines to travel all the way to the Bay Area. Therefore, all first-round matchups would be for schools within the same subsection.

Travel logistics also would require all second-round games to be among schools close to each other, although not necessarily from the same subsection.

At the quarterfinal level of this format, you would have three teams from the Northern Section left and five from the Southern Section. Two of the Northern Section schools remaining would be from the Bay Area and would play each other. The other remaining Northern Section school would be from the Sacramento-Stockton area and would then have to play the northernmost team left in the Southern Section. The other four Southern Section schools would play each other in the two other quarterfinal games.

Seedings could then come into play once teams reach the semifinals because you might only have one Northern Section team still playing against three from the Southern Section. If it was two and two, a Northern and a Southern winner would be determined and the winners would then play each other in the state championship. If it's one from the North vs. three from the South, the four remaining teams would be seeded with No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3.

The same format would work for basketball, except you'd bring in all of the Final Four teams to the state championships and seed them. There also would have to be separate state tournaments for boys and girls because the Final Four concept would involve too many games if they were all at one site.

Maybe this is all fantasy land, but the overwhelming point needs to be made that for there to be any talk about more state playoffs in football and other sports there has to be even more of a debate about revamping the entire structure of the CIF.


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