Governing body implements new competitive equity-based system

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 Juan Hills High School football team has been placed in Division 3 for the upcoming season. The Stallions will compete in the South Coast League against the likes of San Clemente (Division 2) and Mission Viejo (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.

A lot of offseason chatter has focused on the football realignment and potential postseason matchups. But San Juan Hills head coach Aaron Flowers said his program’s approach will continue to be focusing on whoever is on the other side of the ball come game time.

“We don’t look at it as that big of a change,” Flowers said. “If you end up being good, you’re going to end up playing good teams. (The CIF-SS) put a lot of time and effort into this and when I look at it, it seems like everything makes sense.”

JSerra Catholic will remain in Division 1 (formerly Pac-5 Division). St. Margaret’s Episcopal made a noticeable jump and will now compete in Division 7 after competing in Division 13 in 2015. Saddleback Valley Christian also made a large leap and was placed in Division 8, up from Division 13 in 2015. Capistrano Valley Christian will be in Division 11, up from Division 13 in 2015.

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