CIF commissioner sees positives in new playoff structure

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 The 2014-15 interscholastic term marks the second season for sports such as football, girls’ volleyball, boys and girls’ basketball, boys and girls’ soccer, and boys and girls’ lacrosse, and the third season for such sports as baseball and softball, that have employed a new competition-based scheme for post-season competition within the San Diego Section.

 The 2014-15 interscholastic term marks the second season for sports such as football, girls’ volleyball, boys and girls’ basketball, boys and girls’ soccer, and boys and girls’ lacrosse, and the third season for such sports as baseball and softball, that have employed a new competition-based scheme for post-season competition within the San Diego Section.

Section commissioner Jerry Schniepp said the idea for the format switch was to produce a more balanced playoff structure, with parity ruling the outcome of games from the opening round onward.

Certainly, the new playoff format has benefitted East County teams during this past winter sports season.

 Nine—count ’em—East County basketball and soccer teams advanced to the championship round alone this season, with three winning division titles.

Top-seeded El Cajon Valley (25-7) defeated second-seeded Valhalla, 61-49, to win this year’s Division III boys’ basketball championship while top-seeded Foothills Christian (24-8) defeated third-seeded Mira Mesa, 83-41, to win the Division II boys hoops title.

Second-seeded El Capitan (19-9) finally derailed 13th-seeded San Ysidro’s upset train, 55-41, to win the Division IV girls basketball championship while the El Capitan boys (Division IV) and Mt. Miguel girls (Division I) both recorded runner-up finishes.

Three Grossmont Conference teams posted runner-up finishes in this year’s soccer finals: Steele Canyon (Division I girls), Valhalla (Division II girls) and Helix (Division V boys).

Additionally, three East County squads advanced to the quarterfinal-round in the Division I girls’ water polo championships, with third-seeded Granite Hills absorbing a 9-8 defeat at the hands of fifth-seeded Rancho Bernardo in the Division I final.

That makes 10 East County CIF division finalists during the winter sports season. That’s an impressive number.

“I see it,” Schniepp said succinctly. “We’ve had some great competitive games starting in round one. We’ve had some upsets. It’s created a competitive playing field where everyone has a chance regardless of where they’re seeded.

“I compare it to the NCAA – you see it in their playoff statistics.”

Fans definitely saw it in this year’s winter sports playoffs at the local level.

Of the 10 top-seeded teams in boys and girls basketball, four advanced to win division titles. Of the 10 top-seeded teams in boys and girls soccer, only two advanced to win division titles.

How about a seventh-seeded team winning the Division II girls hoops title (Carlsbad)—and a sixth-seeded team winning the Open Division boys hoops title (St. Augustine)?

And what about ninth-seeded El Capitan bursting the playoff bubbles of three higher-seeded teams before eventually taking a back seat to second-seeded Pacific Ridge by a 58-55 score in the Division IV boys’ basketball title game?

Heady stuff.

There’s more.

In boys’ soccer, two division finals featured match-ups between fourth-and seventh-seeded teams, with the seventh-seeded teams (St. Augustine in Division I and Oceanside in Division II) winning both championship titles.

In girls’ soccer, eighth-seeded Rancho Buena Vista captured the Division I title while No. 5 Serra won the Division III championship.

Moreover, in the Division V girls title contest, fifth-seeded Castle Park shut out sixth-seeded Hoover, 2-0, while in the Division IV championship game, fourth-seeded Chula Vista blanked top-seeded Olympian 1-0.

You get the picture. It’s been anyone’s game in most of the competition-based playoff divisions.

The trend has continued in the recent Southern California Regionals. Sixth-seeded Chula Vista captured the Division I boys championship with a 4-2 victory at top-seeded El Camino Real while Coronado, eliminated in the section’s Open Division boys quarterfinals, blasted McFarland, 5-1, to claim the Division IV SoCal regional championship.

Sixth-seeded Foothills Christian was a basket away from pulling off one of the bigger upsets in the Open Division boys’ basketball SoCal regionals in the Knights’ 56-55 loss to third-seeded Etiwanda.

Schniepp said he would like to see all San Diego Section champions entered into the regional playoffs. Currently, the SoCal regionals, which are based on school enrollment level, include an application process and a vote by section commissioners.

Chula Vista, for instance, was eliminated in the Open Division semifinals, yet scored a berth in the SoCal Division I regionals—and eliminated three higher-seeded opponents.

East County regional qualifiers in basketball, besides Foothills Christian, also included El Cajon Valley (Division III boys), Valhalla (Division III boys) and El Capitan (Division IV girls).

“Each section does its playoff divisions differently from the state,” Schniepp. “We don’t get all our division champions to the state playoffs and I would like to be able to do that. Our Open Division teams are our best teams, but I think our division champions should go as well.”

One proposal includes an expanded football state playoff bracket with multiple division championship games played throughout the state rather than at one central location.

While the new system appears to be showing promise, Schniepp said a few tweaks still need to be done.

One proposal is to include all Open/Division I teams in the playoffs. “Those teams are our best teams (based on the competition-tied division structure) and it reasons they should make the playoffs,” Schniepp said.

Of note: Hilltop battled Chula Vista, ranked second in the section, to a pair of stalemates on the pitch this season in league play but did not make the Division I playoffs despite posting a non-losing record.

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