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SoCalHoops High School News

Southern Section Council Creates
New I-AAA Playoff Division--(Oct. 20, 2000)

It had to happen sooner or later. . .  The Los Angeles Times, in two separate stories (one by Ben Bolch and the other by Joel Hood), and The Orange County Register (in a story by Dan Albano) all confirmed what we've been hearing since last January:  The Southern Section Council, with a lot of support from some key SCIBCA members, has approved a proposal to split Division I-AA and I-A into yet another division, I-AAA, thus creating three playoff brackets (for both boys and girls) for the largest enrollment schools in the Southern Section.  The proposal, which passed by a 37-3 vote, affects only Division I this year, but it will serve as a pilot project for other divisions, and it may be applied to Division V next season if successful.

There had been more than a little push for something like this last season, and there was much discussion among SCIBCA members last fall about seeking to have the Southern Section doi this same thing with both Divisions I and V (the two largest overall sections, each with more than 150 teams, thus making up about 2/3 of the total 500+ teams in the entire Southern Section).  But because of timing concerns last year (most of the discussion occurred after the season started), involving scheduling, venues, and concern over the seeding for the State Championship tournaments, the concept was tabled. . . until it was revived yesterday at the Southern Section Council meeting.

Under yesterday's proposal, introduced by Baseline League representative Steve Hebert, head coach at Don Lugo, which takes effect immediately, there will be three playoff divisions in D-I.  Each of the three subdivisions (I-AAA, I-AA, and I-A--the first (AAA) will have the highest enrollment schools, consistent with the current playoff scheme) will cap the number of playoff participants at a maximum of 60 teams, which would mean, if the enrollment divisions are divided evenly across the entire D-I that just about every team could compete in the tournament.  Since there were only 150 teams in all of D-I last year, there remains a possibility that with new enrollment criteria, some of the D-II teams at the upper enrollment limits of that division could be placed into I-A  

The Section will use the new enrollment figures from this year's CBED state enrollment numbers, and according to the published reports, each school affected by the new playoff format will know in what division they will be eligible to compete before the start of the regular season which means each school will use this year's enrollment figures which will be published in November. . . a definite change from the prior two years' procedure, where the prior year's enrollment was used to determine division and subdivision placement.   Indeed, if this year's enrollment figures are used, across the board in all divisions, expect to see some movement among schools who have traditionally been in Division V-AA, who will be required to move up to D-IV because of expanding enrollments, and some other schools who may move down from Divison IV because of declining enrollments. While none of the published newspaper articles addressed this issue,  we would find it hard to believe that new enrollment figures would only apply to Division I, and not to the rest of the schools in the Section. 

The proposal to create a third playoff bracket in Division I was not without controversy because of the effect it will have on which teams qualify for the State Championship tournament.  Currently under the State CIF playoff format, the Southern Section gets to send four teams from each overall division, which was easy when there were only two subdivisions:  Send the Section champions (two, one in AA and one in A) and the runners-up in each subdivision.   (LA also gets two--winner and runner-up of the "City Championship", while San Diego and the Central Section only get to send their section champs). Under the new system, the SS will still only get four spots, which means they will send three champions from Division I (AAA, AA, and A), but the criteria for selecting the fourth team has not yet been determined.

The state basketball championships will be held this season March 16-17, 2001 at Sacramento's Arco Arena.  How will the section figure out who gets to go? As Dan Albano noted in his story in the Register, speaking with former Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley, who is still the overall director for the Southern California Regional State Tournament, "It's going to be tough."   And as Albano also notes, ". . . the decision in March will have to be made fast. The CIF Southern Section basketball finals are March 1-3 at The Pyramid and Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. The seeding meeting for the state regionals is the Sunday after the finals, which would be March 4, Crowley said. "The (Southern Section) will have to come up with some criteria," Crowley said."

Ben Bolch's piece in the Times featured a more interesting quote about how the Section will determine the fourth team to qualify:  "It's got to be smart criteria," said Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight, whose teams won the last two Division I-A titles. "You can't go wins and losses. You have to look at who the teams played, if they're playing national powers or some local yahoos."

Paul Castillo, assistant CIF Southern Section Commissioner, was a little more restrained.  He told Dan Albano of the Register that "the section and coaches associations will begin meeting next month to discuss how the fourth team will be selected. Castillo believes a decision will not be made before the start of the regular season, however. He stressed the criteria will be 'as objective as possible.' "  Thom Simmons, media information officer for the Southern Section told Joel Hood "I think [having to select a fourth team] really opens us up to a lot of problems down the road," Simmons said. "But we won't know for sure. We'll have to wait and see how it goes."  According to Albano's story, "there was talk Thursday of a fourth sub-division in Division I, but scheduling seemed to rule that out. Steve Hebert, boys basketball coach at Don Lugo and the Baseline representative who introduced the proposal for the three divisions was more blunt about why four divisions would not be practical:  "Four creates a venue nightmare,"  he told Albano.

According to Bolch's story, Hebert spoke in support of the proposal at the Section Meeting, saying "This makes it a little more realistic to compete for a championship. There's no perfect solution, but this is a way to get the ball rolling."

Last year, 72 teams competed in Division I-AA and 73 in Division I-A,  and about the same numbers competed in Divisions V-AA and V-A, and these two divisions by far make up the majority of the Section placements. Division II-AA and II-A come close, but last year, if you'll recall, the CIF Southern Section actually consolidated one of the Divisions (Division III), eliminating D-IIIA because there just weren't enough teams overall for two subdivisions at that enrollment level ((750-1124 students in 10th-12th grades only).

Many people, especially Inland Empire area teams (which has probably the largest concentration of high enrollment schools) supported the proposal. Steve Hebert, the boys' basketball coach at Don Lugo High and the Baseline League coordinator, said the new format could have a tremendous impact on Inland Valley schools.  "It just creates much greater opportunities for our teams," Hebert said. "When you look at other CIF sections around the state, there are some that are smaller than our own division. I think having to compete with 74 other schools for one championship is a little ridiculous. This allows for more balanced competition." 

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