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Athletic Directors Share Thoughts on CIF’s New Playoff System

High school athletics is headed for a big change this fall.

Santa Barbara County prep teams will be competing in new playoff divisions under a restructured postseason format approved by the CIF-Southern Section earlier this week.

The California Interscholastic Federation is the governing body for high school sports in the state. It is divided into 10 sections, with the Southern Section being the largest with more than 585 schools.

In the new system, instead of leagues being aligned to playoff divisions, individual teams will be placed in divisions, based on a power-point formula.

Teams will be awarded points based on performance history —postseason success, regular-season records and strength of schedule — over a two-year period. An algorithm that takes in all of those factors will determine which division each school program will compete for a CIF-SS championship. No longer will school enrollment size or the overall success of the league determine a program’s playoff division.

The goal of the new system is to create competitive equity throughout the playoffs. The plan will affect every sport that uses bracketed playoffs, including football, volleyball, team tennis, water polo, soccer, basketball, softball and baseball.

Boys and girls basketball currently uses this system. Teams are grouped into 12 divisions for CIF titles.

The CIF-SS has been compiling two years of data from every school to determine where to place teams for the new playoff format.

“I’ve been saying and I believe that this is as big a change as we’ve made in our history, in a 100 years,”  CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod told reporters after the format passed.

He expects there will be some "sticker shock" in the first two years.

“It might take a few years to get it perfected,” he said. “If anyone thinks this is a finished product, it’s not.”

Noozhawk asked area high school athletic directors for their thoughts on the new playoff format.

Carpinteria athletic director Pat Cooney said he welcomes the change with "tempered optimism.

“We like the promise of competitive equity in the playoffs but remain uncertain that the CIF power ranking system will actually work to benefit schools like us,” he said. “As a small public school, we hope that population is considered but not a major factor. Carpinteria following private schools of 600-700 students into the playoff groupings in basketball has not been equitable.”

Joe Chenoweth, Santa Barbara High’s AD, said the passage of the format “potentially will impact teams needing to travel further, but the up-swing is each team will maintain competitive equity.”

Abe Jahadhmy of San Marcos has mixed feelings about teams from the same league being placed in different playoff divisions.

“On one hand, if you have a team in the league that dominates and your whole league gets put in a high division, it makes sense.” He used Santa Barbara High’s boys tennis team as an example.

“On the other hand, (the new system) waters down the CIF championship. If you look at basketball, you have divisions without a league champion. In my opinion, that is a consolation CIF champion.”

Dan Feldhaus of Dos Pueblos said the change should help programs like the boys tennis team.

“We’re not D1 — Santa Barbara has been very good. The change might give us an opportunity to move down and win a playoff game or two,” he said.

Feldhaus noted the division format used in basketball has benefited his girls team, which is ranked fifth in Division 2A. “We’re a pretty solid team for our division. We’re only going to win a couple of league games because it’s so tough (with 1AA powers Ventura and Santa Barbara and 2AA top-10 team Buena ). We have a chance to go to the playoffs.”

He’s not sure where the football team will be placed in the fall. The Chargers have won four games the last two years playing a challenging schedule. DP plays in the Channel League, which was part of the Western Division (Division 7).

Feldhaus said the CIF-SS will rank the more than 350 teams that play 11-man football and divide them up into divisions of 40 teams. The top 40 will be in Division 1, the next 40 in Division 2, etcetera.

Bishop Diego athletic director Dan Peeters isn’t sure if his school’s football team will remain in Division 3 (Northern Division) in the fall. The Cardinals and the Tri-Valley League have competed in the division the last two years after the league’s tremendous success in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Bishop won a playoff game in 2014 and two this past season, advancing to the division semifinals

“Given our success the past two years in Division 3 and our high ranking among CIF Southern Section schools, it is hard to know what, if any, impact the anticipated formula will have on our placement,” Peeters said.“Accordingly, while we may again be the smallest school by far competing in one of the top divisions — and against schools many times our size — we know our boys will embrace the challenge of competition and continue to focus on things we can control.”

For the other sports teams at Bishop, Peeters is pleased the playoff format passed.

“I am in favor of the change to align playoff divisions based on individual school success as opposed to league success.  In the long run I believe this is a positive move for Bishop Athletics, and our section in general.”

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