Perhaps nobody is more anxiously awaiting the start of the high school football playoffs than CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod.
This week is not only the first round of the postseason, but it’s also the first chance to see the new playoff grouping system that Wigod pushed so hard for in action.
“There should be a reasonable expectation to see closer games,” Wigod said. “We haven’t seen it yet, because we haven’t played it. But don’t think for one second that I can’t wait to see the scores from Friday night. I really look forward to seeing what data comes from it.”
One of the major reasons why Wigod urged the Southern Section to base playoff divisions solely on competitive equity rather than league placement was to clean up some of the non-competitive results that started to proliferate many of the divisions, especially in the first and second rounds.
The first part of the process played out last weekend when the Southern Section crunched all the numbers and released the playoff fields for all thirteen divisions. Fears about whether teams that would have made the postseason under the previous now missing out despite finishing in the top two or three in their respective leagues were quickly put to rest.
Wigod reports that only one third-place team in Divisions 1-9 missed the playoffs. And all teams that finished in first or second place in their respective made the playoffs in every division.
“It went really well,” Wigod said. “I think what people may not understand is that we’re in a really tight window. From the end of the games on Friday night until Sunday morning, we’re taking in a tremendous amount of information and making sure all the entries are correct. There’s a lot we do in a short window and I can tell you this particular year, it went very smoothly.”
The new format also allows for schools to move up or down in division based on performance. Every August, the Southern Section will notify schools of their division placement based on the previous two years worth of data. So, there’s plenty of opportunity for Wigod and his team to adjust based on what the data shows.
But first things first, and that’s the hope for more competitive games. Wigod expressed the need for action during last year’s playoffs when the average margin of victory in the Pac-5 Division (now Division 1) was 37.5 points per game. Three others divisions cited produced final scoreboards in the first round that ranged from 25 to 37 point spreads.
“This (new) system gave us a lot more flexibility and kind of allowed us to go deeper into our seeding process and put more appropriate games together,” Wigod said. “We’ll take a sampling of some divisions and say a year ago this is what we got and here’s what we got this year. We’ll analyze it and see what comes from it.”