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Playoff groupings the hot topic of conversation as school year begins

By Loren Kopff

With the beginning of the 2015-2016 high school year right around the corner, the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section is busy at work, not just for the present, but for the future. The main topic of discussion in the recent weeks centers on a proposal to change the playoff groupings for football.

CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod recently invited members of the media to conduct one-on-one interviews with him and I had the opportunity to ask him about the potential changes, among a couple of other items.

Presently, the 13 divisions for the high school football playoffs are put together with automatic qualifiers and at-large representatives from the same leagues being grouped in the same divisions. As it relates to the Hews Media Group-Community News area, Artesia, Cerritos, John Glenn and Norwalk out of the Suburban League and Gahr from the San Gabriel Valley League are in the Southeast Division while Valley Christian (Olympic League) is in the Northwest Division.

An executive committee will forward a proposal to the Southern Section membership who will then vote to change the playoff system or keep it the same. The proposal will be introduced on Oct. 6 in what is called a “first reading” with the vote to take place on Jan. 27, 2016 by the CIF-SS Council. Each of the 86 leagues will have a vote.

“The concept is to take individual schools and now be able to evaluate each school and their level of performance using regular season records, strength of schedule, section playoff performance and then form divisions of the schools that are hopefully competitive divisions,” Wigod said. “Can they all win the section championship? No, but can they compete? That’s been the point.”

In addition to football, the proposal would also include girls volleyball, girls tennis and boys water polo in the fall, boys and girls basketball and soccer as well as girls water polo in the winter and baseball, softball, boys tennis and boys volleyball in the spring. If passed, the football divisions would revert back to Divisions I, II, III, etc. as it was in the past. If passed, the new playoff grouping would begin for the 2016-2017 school year.

“Again, I think schools would rather be evaluated themselves versus either dragged up or down because of the other schools they happen to be in a league with,” Wigod said. “So that’s really what the effort is trying to do and give each of the schools in each of the different sports the opportunity to be where they should be. We’re excited to see this get out to our section.

“The history of basketball in this section has always been different,” Wigod later added. “Basketball has had different rules. There seems to always have been a different system for basketball among everything else. The current system…the reason that these schools are in the playoffs is there are openings in the playoffs.”

One major change for football this season will be the state football championships, which will move to Sacramento after being held at the Stub Hub Center (formally Home Depot Center) for the past nine years. Also every Southern Section champion, as well as those from the other three sections from the southern half of the state will advance to the state regionals with the winners to face the champions from the northern half of the state. Eventually there will be 14 state championship bowl games in Sacramento.

I also asked Wigod about concerns for concussions, especially in football, and if the CIF-SS is taking any steps to improve the safety of the athletes or what each school can do to prevent the potential for concussions.

“Safety is first, always, first and foremost,” Wigod said. “And I think the CIF has done some things and will continue. There have been some bylaws passed limiting the number of hours of practice and limiting now the number of allowable minutes for full contact in football practice.”

Wigod added that return-to-play protocols have been added as per the stages that a student athlete must pass before they can return to practice and/or play. They have to show evidence that concussion-like symptoms are gone. He went on to say that the hiring of athletic trainers are district and school decisions, whether they are full-time or part-time. The CIF-SS does have an athletic trainer’s committee. All of the different stages and what they mean and the protocols can be found at www.cifss.org.

“I think we’ve made some real steps forward in awareness of concussions, by-laws dealing with kids who have potential concussions or have concussions, how we’re going to deal with taking them away from the athletic arena to allow them to heal properly before they are put back in, if at all.”

Another area that I asked Wigod about was the possibility of realignment of schools to make it more geographically desirable. This would apply to Valley Christian, whose four Olympic League opponents are located in La Habra (Whittier Christian), North Hills (Heritage Christian), Pasadena (Maranatha) and Sun Valley (Village Christian). In the past, Valley Christian travelled to Lancaster to face former league opponent Paraclete. For Whitney High School, which is in the Academy League, its farthest destination for a league game is San Juan Capistrano when it plays St. Margaret’s. Whitney also has to go to Irvine (Crean Lutheran) and Newport Beach (Sage Hill) for league contests.

“Sometimes in the private school world trying to find league opponents and league schools that fit best…you’re going to have to travel because they’re just not grouped together,” Wigod said. “You look at John Glenn and they’re in a public school district with several high schools. When you’re at Valley Christian there isn’t a group of schools around you that’s a similar kind of school dynamically for you.”

Wigod said that the private schools are the ones who have the opportunity to form leagues so that they wouldn’t have to travel such long distances. But those schools would have to decide how it would work for them.

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