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CIF ready to change football playoff format

By: Mike Ray, Gold Country News Service
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If you’re a follower of prep football, especially in the Division II and IV ranks, which includes a bevy of foothill-area schools, you may need a calculator to figure out who is in and who is out when playoff time rolls around. In a new football playoff proposal that has already been tweaked once since its first reading back in December, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section is radically changing the way it will conduct its football postseason. Due to what the CIF termed as “serious injustices to teams that made or didn’t make the playoffs and to unfair brackets because of pre-determined match-ups,” the CIF’s new proposal is expected to be passed by the board of managers at its April meeting. “It was time for something like this,” said Colfax football coach Tony Martello. “When you have 8-2 teams not making it and 2-8 teams in, it’s time to make it fair.” Martello was referring to Manteca at 8-2 not making the playoffs last season and Foothill at 2-8 qualifying for the postseason. Based somewhat like the playoff system that is conducted in the state of Illinois, the new CIF playoff proposal expands Div. I through IV to 16-team brackets, which will be comprised more by a school’s enrollment. Now, in the new format, 64 teams will make the playoffs instead of the 40 that used to qualify from Div. I through IV. Basically, from the 20 Div. I to Div. IV leagues, the 20 league champions and 20 league runner-ups will automatically earn playoff berths. The next 24 teams will be at-large schools that will be broken into divisions by their enrollment. To be considered for an at-large berth, a school must win at least two league games. From there, overall records and strength of schedule — combined wins by non-league opponents — will factor in to seed teams. Tie-breakers will then be in place to help section officials with seeding. With that in mind, the playoffs in Division II — already a division that many feel is the strongest in the section — could become interesting considering that last season’s two Div. I finalists — Pleasant Grove and St. Mary’s of Stockton — would have qualified as Div. II schools under the new format. While Div. I, II, and III will be straight 16-team brackets, Div. IV has been changed a bit since the proposal’s first reading. Instead of one 16-team bracket, Div. IV will have a Div. IV A bracket and a Div. IV B bracket. The A bracket will be comprised of the top eight seeded Div. IV teams by enrollment. The B bracket will be made up of the eight smallest Div. IV schools. After three weeks to determine the A and B bracket winners, the two remaining winners will play for the Div. IV title. The A and B bracket winners will not receive awards. “Div. IV was split because of the chance that some Mother Lode League schools with enrollments of 600 could play a school of 1,400 in the first round,” said CIF assistant commissioner John Williams. However, what the splitting of Div. IV does is leave perennial state power Central Catholic, with its 400 students, looking like a virtual shoo-in every year for the Div. IV B bracket winner. In a dry run of the seeding and brackets as an example, and used by last season’s records, the CIF Div. IV bracket for A teams had No. 8 Colfax playing at No. 1 Escalon and No. 4 Bear River hosting No. 5 Calaveras. Whitney, the actual Div. IV champion, was seeded No. 2 and would have played No. 7 Ripon in the opening round. Ironically, Whitney’s 10-0 regular season record didn’t carry the weight in preseason that Escalon’s non-league schedule did to earn the top seed. The Golden Empire League will be in the Div. V playoffs. Division V and VI will be made up of six-team playoff brackets. Showcases open season A pair of prep football showcases will be played in Sacramento this September to help kick off the 2009 high school football campaign. Matt Williams, the organizer of last season’s Rocky Mountain Rumble, which showcased California schools against Idaho teams in Pocatello, Idaho, has announced that the Battle in the Capitol is set for Saturday, Sept. 12 at Hughes Stadium In Sacramento. The four-game line-up includes Franklin of Elk Grove against Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, Pittsburgh versus Granite Bay, Central Catholic of Modesto versus Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, and Del Oro matching up against California High of Danville. In addition, a zero-week showcase sponsored by Nike is also in the works for Saturday, Sept. 5, in Sacramento. While the complete line-up is not yet set, one of the match-ups is Whitney against Elk Grove.