What can be done to fix the CIF-SS basketball playoffs? Overall record and league play means nothing and where you compete in the playoffs is still a mystery

“I’d like to see league play have more of an impact in division make-up, seeding and home game assignments. I think the system now devalues league play quite a bit.”Damien boys basketball coach Matt Dunn

By Bob Keisser, Staff Writer
Bracketology in CIF-Southern Section basketball requires an advanced degree in demographics. Or at least some knowledge of the game Twister.
The CIF State playoffs convene Friday and Saturday in Sacramento with state titles at stake in six divisions each for boys and girls. But for the Southern California schools that reached this pinnacle, they had to succeed in their league – or not – and then sort out exactly where they belonged in the 12 divisions the CIF-Southern Section apportioned in basketball. There also were all of the factors, and non-factors, involved.
Oddly, the leagues they competed in during the regular season were not factors.
Even more strange is the record they had during the regular season was less of a factor than one would expect.
And there was nothing remotely orderly about the placement of teams based on what we’ve come to expect in the playoffs.

Santa Monica, Redondo and Mater Dei are seeking boys titles, and Windward of L.A., Long Beach Poly, Lynwood, Alemany, Serra and Sierra Canyon are going after the girls crowns.

It’s the journey, not the destination, that needs the Google Earth treatment.

The CIF-SS works in concert with the Southern California Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association (SCIBCA) in determining the playoff format, which in basketball is based not on leagues but on enrollment and recent playoff success.

The result is a mish-mash of affiliations and migraines determining
who plays in what division.

Some examples of the vagaries of the playoffs in 2013:

In the boys 3-AA finals, Damien met Santa Margarita, a Trinity League power, for the division title despite Santa Margarita having gone 12-14 on the season and winless in league play (0-10).

In the boys 3-A division, only nine of the 32 teams finished first or second in their leagues, and there were 15 at-large teams, including eight with losing records.

In the girls 3-AA, only nine teams finished first or second in their league and there were 17 teams that finished fourth in their league or were at-large teams. Thirteen had losing records. Seven of those sub-.500 teams had fewer than 10 wins.

In the girls 1-A playoffs, an at-large team that was 2-6 in league play (Bishop Amat) was the top seed.

The always-powerful Trinity League has six boys teams and played in five divisions, from top-end 1-AA (Mater Dei) to 4-AA (JSerra). The five Trinity girls teams played in four divisions.

And the Ocean League has six members in six divisions, from 1-AA to 4-AA.

CIF-SS assistant commissioner Rainer Wulf, who handles basketball matters, explains:

“Historically, divisions are created in two ways,” he said. “By enrollment, which basketball uses, or equity in league play, which most other sports use.

“Coaches and schools feel in basketball that a large percentage of schools were in the wrong divisions and that leagues were not a good indicator of a team’s strengths, or that one team in a league that was very good was dragging their teams to a higher level. Six years or so ago, the coaches and SCIBCA came up with a hybrid model for determining divisions.

“They start with enrollment and adjust teams up and down based on how a team performs in the postseason over a period of time.”

Wulf admitted there’s no perfect model, and basketball choosing to have 12 divisions stretches the field compared to other sports that have 10.

The committee went to three divisions in Division 3 because of the number of schools with comparable enrollment.

“Basketball has its own dynamic,” Wulf said, “and we’re always looking for ways to improve.”

The CIF-SS gets criticized for having too many divisions in other sports, so one can imagine the issues with basketball at 12. There are 579 schools in the division. There were 382 schools with a bid to the boys field, 344 in the girls field. With that kind of everyone-into-the-pool alignment, there was bound to be an abundance of at-large teams and those with losing records in the postseason. There were 72 in the boys field, 62 in the girls.

That led to some scary bad first-round scores, among them 101-36, 90-18, 88-29, 79-29 and 74-28.

Coaches are philosophical about the system. They can see its merits and at the same time flinch at the matchups.

Imagine the reaction of Matt Dunn, head coach at Damien, when he woke up on selection Sunday and saw a Trinity League team and a team that went 0-10 in league play in his bracket. It happened to be the same team.

“I knew before the season that they were in our division, so we went out and watched them in the regular season,” he said. “The question becomes how do you seed a team that was 0-10 in league play at the same time that you have another team (Temple City) that was 10-0?”

The CIF-SS seeded Santa Margarita fifth and Temple City seventh. Damien was a No. 2 seed. There were only three league champions in the 3-AA bracket, and none of them reached the semifinals.

“I grew up in the San Joaquin section and coached in San Diego, both sections where enrollment is used, so I had that perspective coming in,” Dunn said. “I think it’s a good basis to start from.

“But I’d like to see league play have more of an impact in division make-up, seeding and home game assignments. I think the system now devalues league play quite a bit.”

Compton has been a member of the Moore League for decades. The other six schools all play at the Division 1 level – Poly, Jordan, Wilson and Lakewood in 1-AA and Cabrillo and Millikan at 1-A. Compton played in the 3-AAA division this season and reached the semifinals.

“I don’t understand how they determine what division we’re in anymore, because they flip-flopped us from 2-AA to 2-A the previous two years and this season we were 3-AAA,” coach Toy Thomas said. “It makes it more of a challenge when you have to go out and scout teams you never see in the regular season.

“Thing is, I always see coaches of those teams coming out to see us because we’re playing in the Moore League (and major tournaments). Eventually, I’d like to see our program get to the level where we’re in the same division as Poly, but for right now we’re building up our program the right way, a step at a time.”

The up side is the system tends to even out after the playoffs, and teams rise to their proper level once the regional state playoffs begin.

St. John Bosco’s boys team won the 3-A title, then was bumped to the Open Division for the Southern California regionals, where they butted heads with Poly.

Likewise, Windward’s girls team ran away with the 4-AA title and then was placed in the Open Division for the state playoffs, where they KO’d Mater Dei for the Southern California title.

But making things a little more even for the Southern Section playoffs, and keeping teams from power leagues playing in less powerful divisions, might be the equitable thing to do.

Number of first-, second- and fourth-place/at-large teams who made the playoffs in each division, plus a list of sub.-500 teams.

Division — *1st — *2nd — 4 or A-L — Under .500

DIV. 1-AA — 16 — 9 — 4 — 0

DIV. 1-A — 7 — 7 — 12 — 6

DIV. 2-AA — 6 — 7 — 15 — 9

DIV. 2-A — 7 — 4 — 13 — 5

DIV. 3-AAA — 11 — 10 — 5 — 1

DIV. 3-AA — 3 — 7 — 14 — 11

DIV. 3-A — 6 — 3 — 15 — 13

DIV. 4-AA — 7 — 6 — 10 — 6

DIV. 4-A — 6 — 5 — 10 — 7

DIV. 5-AA — 9 — 7 — 10 — 7

DIV. 5-A — 10 — 7 — 6 — 0

DIV. 6 — 4 — 7 — 11 — 7

* Includes teams tied for 1st/2nd


Overall records are included as well as league record for select teams.

1-A: Diamond Bar (12-14), Paloma (12-16), Cabrillo (10-14), Glendale (9-17), Capistrano Valley (8-18, 0-8), Ventura (8-18, 3-9).

2-AA: Santa Fe (12-14), Santa Ana (12-15), Heritage (11-13, 2-8), Peninsula (11-15), Redlands (10-16), Eastview (10-12), Valencia Placentia (9-18, 3-9), University (8-19, 2-8), Vista (8-14).

2-A: Citrus Hill (11-12), El Modena (11-16, 3-9), Dominguez (10-15), LaHabra (10-16), Newbury Park (7-19, 1-13).

3-AAA: Cerritos (11-15).

3-AA: Yorba Linda (13-14, 3-9), Santa Margarita (12-14, 0-10), Indio (11-15), Lakeside (11-15, 2-7), El Dorado (11-17, 1-11), West Valley (10-14, 1-9), Esperanza (8-19, 3-9), Palos Verdes (7-19, 0-9), Ranch Alamitos (7-18, 3-7), San Juan Hills (7-21, 1-7), Bolsa Grande (6-13, 4-6)

3-A: Mountain View (12-14), Northview (10-15), Pioneer (10-17, 2-8), Pomona (9-17, 1-11), Laguna Hills (9-18, 1-7), Artesia (9-18), Barstow (8-16, 3-9), South Pasadena (8-18, 3-7), Antelope Valley (7-15, 2-12), Estancia (7-19, 3-7), Garey (7-20, 3-9), Buena Park (4-20, 1-9), Monrovia (4-24).

4-AA: Salesian (13-14), Compton Centennial (12-14), Whittier Christian (12-15 1-7), Morningside (10-15), Costa Mesa (10-16), Notre Dame (9-18).

4-A: St. Monica (12-14), Sage Hill (10-14, 3-7), Morro Bay (10-15), Viewpoint (10-15, 0-12), Malibu (7-20, 1-8), California City (6-13), St. Bernard (6-18, 0-8).

5-AA: Avalon (11-12), Chadwick (10-13, 1-7), Providence (10-16), Xavier (9-11), Pacifica Christiana (8-14), Vasquez (7-14), PSA (6-8).

6: Desert Chaparral (11-12), Bloomington Christian (11-13), Cornerstone (9-11), AGBU (8-15), Providence Hall (8-12), Hesperia (7-15), North Coast Christian (5-13).

Division — *1st — *2nd — 4 or A-L — Under .500

DIV. 1-AA — 14 — 8 — 4 — 1

DIV. 1-A — 10 — 4 — 10 — 5

DIV. 2-AA — 12 — 7 — 7 — 1

DIV. 2-A — 6 — 6 — 11 — 5

DIV. 3-AAA — 4 — 8 — 11 — 7

DIV. 3-AA — 6 — 3 — 17 — 13

DIV. 3-A — 4 — 7 — 11 — 9

DIV. 4-AA — 11 — 6 — 8 — 2

DIV. 4-A — 5 — 7 — 10 — 6

DIV. 5-AA — 14 — 8 — 8 — 5

DIV. 5-A — 5 — 6 — **6 — 4

DIV. 6 — 5 — 6 — 8 — 4

* Includes teams tied for 1st/2nd.

** No at-large teams, but there were six wild card entrants.


Overall records are included as well as league record for select teams.

1-AA: Warren (11-12)

1-A: Aliso Niguel (13-14, 2-6), Capistrano Valley (11-15, 2-6), Fountain Valley (11-15), Chaffey (10-15), Trabuco Hills (7-17, 1-7).

2-AA: Redlands (11-12, 2-8).

2-A: Norco (12-15), Claremont (10-14), Dos Pueblos (9-14), Elsinore (9-16, 2-8), Fullerton (7-16).

3-AAA: Rio Mesa (12-13), Royal (11-15), Pasadena (10-15), Nogales (9-16), San Bernardino (7-13), El Modena (6-18), Santa Maria (6-18).

3-AA: Pacifica (12-14), Charter Oak (12-16), Palos Verdes (11-16, 2-8), Orange (10-13), Palm Desert (10-14), Tustin (10-16, 1-11), Corona del Mar (9-17, 1-9), Bellflower (9-19), Yorba Linda (8-9), Avalon (8-16), Magnolia (8-14), Esperanza (5-22, 0-13), Monrovia (3-16).

3-A: Tahquitz (12-13), Gabrielano (11-15), Covina (11-15), Lompoc (10-12), Cabrillo (9-16), Azusa (8-20), Santa Margarita (6-19, 0-8), Northview 4-16, 1-11), Rubidoux (4-17, 1-9).

4-AA: Banning (12-13), Fillmore(10-15).

4-A: Marshall (11-12), St. Genevieve (9-10), Santa Clara (9-11), Marantha (9-17), Avalon (6-18, 1-9), St. Mary’s (6-19, 0-8).

5-AA: Kern Valley (10-11), Pacific Christian (10-12), Avalon (8-15), Vasquez (6-12), Viewpoint (6-18).

5-A: Webb (10-11), Sage Hill (8-11), West Shores 8-12), AGBU (6-8), PSA (6-13).

6: Rio Hondo (10-11), Bethel Baptist (7-12), Packinghouse (6-9), Lee Vining (3-8).
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  • Commonsense

    1. 1st and foremost, Private and Public need to be separated, more so in Basketball then in any other sport.
    2. Schools should be re-leagued for for Fall, Winter, and Spring sports. By re-leaguing for Winter sports entire leagues could be grouped into the division in which all teams in the league play and therefore league play would have a barring on which teams make the playoffs. (i.e. only the top 3 teams in league would make the playoffs)

    • 1. Teams in the same league need to go in the same playoff division. 2: Divisions should be grouped by area to limit travel, create local excitement and atmosphere, and have true area champions that could then go on to compete at the state playoff level for the bigger prizes. My gosh, there are 13 boys and girls playoff divisions, if you broke them up by at least six area sections within the Southern Section, you could have a top and lower division title within each area. What they do now is a complete mess, catering only to the super powers.