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Prep Roundup

Bigger Looks To Be Better For Grid Playoffs

CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Expands Football Post Season
By: Mike Ray, Gold Country News Services
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If the initial first down of the 2009 high school football season is just three weeks away and fans second-guessing a coach’s decision to go for it on fourth down isn’t far behind, it must mean it’s time for prep football followers to start talking about – gulp – playoffs. Earlier this week, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section officially released its 2009 football playoff format and for the most part it looks like bigger will be better for prep grid teams from Merced to Colfax this season. In perhaps the most sweeping changes to the section’s playoff picture since third place teams were allowed to participate in the post season for the first time in the mid 1990s, the CIF has created a playoff tournament that is heavily weighted on both league finish and enrollment. And for the first time a team’s strength of schedule, wins against quality opponents and ratings in a state rankings website could also factor in to determine qualifying for playoff berths. But don’t get to comfy with the 2009 version, it will alter slightly in 2010 to a more enrollment based format when the section’s next realignment cycle goes into effect. “I think it’s good,” said Colfax coach Tony Martello. “It gives more teams chances to play in the post season and I think that’s what it’s all about.” The new post season plan – which is 15 pages long and can be downloaded from the section’s website at www.cifsjs.org – includes six divisions which will total 76 teams. Last season a total of 58 teams made the playoffs in seven divisions. Divisions I-IV will be made up of 16-team brackets while Div. V-VI will be six-team brackets. It should be noted, however, that for this season, dividing lines have been set by the section which will break teams into Div. I or II, Div. III or IV and Div. V and VI. Those “lines of demarcation” will change in 2010 to a more enrollment based qualifying. For instance, while a school like Del Oro, which plays in the Sierra Foothill League, is earmarked as a Div. II playoff school this season, because of enrollment, the Golden Eagles could be a Div. III playoff school in 2010. For the 2009 season, Div. I-II will be made up of teams from 10 leagues including the CCC, DRL, DVC, MEL, Metro, MMC, SFL, SJAA, SVCC and TCAL. Locally speaking, Div. III-IV will be comprised of teams from the following nine leagues: CAL, CVC, MLL, Pioneer Valley, SCAC, TCC, TVL, VOL and WAC. Meanwhile, Div. V and VI will be selected from teams from the GEL, HCL, SL and SMAL. Focusing on Div. III and IV, here is how the playoff teams will be selected in 2009: *The nine league champions and nine runners-up from the above noted leagues will be automatic qualifiers. *In 2009 only, third place teams from the following leagues will also qualify: PVL, CAL, SCAC, TVL, VOL and WAC. This was done by the section to honor leagues which were set to have their third place teams qualify before the playoff format was changed. The final eight teams for Div. III and IV will be eight (8) at-large qualifiers. These teams will be selected solely on the basis of regular season victories – however – a team must win at least two league games to be considered. Now, this is where the new playoff system starts to get a little tricky and the format starts to resemble the BCS bowl selection process. In the event of ties for the final four spots in Div. III and IV, the section’s 13-point tie-breaker will be used if all if the teams have played each other. However, if teams are still tied for those final at-large spots, and did not play each other, the following will be used to break ties: *Combined wins of all opponents. Now, if two teams are still tied for the last playoff spot in a division, the tie-breakers will be as follows: *Head-to-head. *Combined wins of all defeated opponents. *Calpreps.com’s rankings at the time of the seeding process. The last tie-breaker marks the first time in section history that anything other than a coin flip will be the final determination of a post season playoff berth. But don’t leave just yet, if you’re a follower of Bear River, Placer or Colfax, the Div. IV playoff format gets even a little more trickier. Because 16 teams will be taken into the Div. IV bracket and the possibility could exist that would match a school of 1,500 against a school of 400 in the first round, the section will have the top eight teams grouped by enrollment as a Div. IVA bracket and the lowest eight by enrollment will be grouped in a Div IV B bracket. Which ever teams survive the two brackets, they will meet the weekend of Dec. 11-12 to determine the outright section Div. IV champion. “We made a concession for one of our smaller Div. IV leagues,” said assistant section commissioner John Williams. “We’ve already been questioned on it by a few leagues and it could change down the road. Right now we feel comfortable with it.” One question that a lot of schools are raising about the split division brackets is that the two best teams in Div. IV, perhaps, won’t be meeting in the section championship game. “It seems like it’s another way for the section to make more money,” said one area coach who asked to remain anonymous. “Let the two best teams play in the section finals.” Still, despite any second guessing on the new playoff format, 2009 should make for a more than interesting year. “We did a two-year test pattern on this format which is based on how Illinois runs their playoffs,” said Williams. “We’re not saying it’s perfect but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”