The CIF Federated Council voted last spring to approve the open division as a sixth division to the state playoffs. There will still be Division I, Division II, Division III, Division IV and Division V. The open division is designed to be a bracket among the best of the best.
There’s a good chance that adding this open division will result in increased attendance and TV viewership. Two years ago, for example, the Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. Mary’s of Stockton girls possibly would have played in an open division final that also would have determined which team was going to be No. 1 in the nation.
The open division will be for teams from any division, any section and regardless of enrollment.
*Winning two straight section titles
*Playing in a regional final in three of the previous four years
*Appearing in the top 10 of the Cal-Hi Sports, MaxPreps or CalPreps rankings for two straight years, including the current one.
Two other considerations will be that no section is required to send more than four teams to either boys or girls brackets and that the eight-team open division brackets do not have to be completely filled. The four-team minimum rule mostly will apply to the CIF Southern Section in Southern California and the CIF North Coast Section in Northern California.
Section commissioners in the north and south will determine the open division brackets once the section playoffs are completed. They would then seed the other five divisions just as they always have and would fill in spots left by teams moving up to the open division probably with additional semifinalist or quarterfinalist section playoff teams.
Here are some questions some may have as the open division takes shape this season:
1. Is this going to level the playing field between private and public schools?
For the second straight season, all 10 CIF state champions in basketball in 2012 were from private schools. This is going to give public schools a better chance to win state crowns, but it?s not going to “level the playing field.” In fact, it may only result in just a few public schools here and there winning titles. In Northern California anyway, for every Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Salesian of Richmond (both boys and girls) that might be going up to the open division, there’s often a second-place team from the same private school powerhouse league that is just not that too far behind.
2. Will a school that has never won a CIF state title before get any special consideration to avoid being placed in the open division?
This was a big concern among many who devised this proposal, which is why several steps were taken to make that scenario more difficult to arise. First, there doesn’t have to be eight-team open division brackets. It’s only “up to” eight teams, which means smaller brackets and first-round byes for the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds won’t be discouraged. Second, teams that have not won two straight section titles or haven’t been in a regional final in three of the last four years won’t have to go to the open division, either. It’s not among the criteria whether a school has or hasn?t won a state title before so it is possible that a school that hasn’t won one will have to go up. If it wins another section title, Sheldon of Sacramento, for example, would probably be in the NorCal open division for the boys even though it has never won a state title before.
3. Does a school have a choice whether it wants to be in the open division or not?
No, the school does not have a choice and cannot opt up like is possible in some section playoffs in some sports. The section commissioners have specific criteria to look at when picking the open division and will fill the open division brackets (north and south) as needed.
4. Will there now be open divisions in other CIF state championship sports?
We could see it for girls volleyball and for the two boys volleyball regional playoffs (the NorCal event starts next year). There are no divisions of any kind in wrestling and track-and-field and we don’t see the need for it in cross country. The basketball concept in California, though, is ground-breaking nationally. New Jersey has a tournament of champions at the end of its various divisional playoffs, but no other state has had an open division format like this one. If it works well, we could see other states (especially Florida) take a good, hard look at doing the same thing. The CIF Central Coast Section also has added its own open division in basketball for this season. Under that plan, the CCS will automatically submit every team that is placed into its own open division directly into the NorCal regional playoffs. That could, however, help to limit the number of CCS teams that are chosen for the NorCal open division to just one boys and one girls team each.
5. How is this going to impact the Cal-Hi Sports rankings?
First, it makes the overall top 10 of the rankings much more significant since that will be one of the main cutoffs for the open division criteria. We can in fact see the possibility of some schools lobbying us to be ranked lower, such as No. 11 instead of No. 10, so those schools wouldn’t have to go up to the open division and instead play in a more natural division. Second, with an open division, there’s no longer going to be any difficult decisions for a final State Team of the Year. That still happened in football even with an open division in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but with all of the very top-ranked teams now playing each other it will probably not happen. Technically, it could happen if the next LeBron James were to suddenly appear at a school that wouldn’t qualify for the open division but has wins over other top teams, but we don’t envision too many other possibilities.
6. What are some of the elite boys and girls teams that seem headed to the open division at the end of this season if they win section championships?
For boys, Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Salesian of Richmond, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, Long Beach Poly, Sheldon of Sacramento, Loyola of Los Angeles, Alemany of Mission Hills, De La Salle of Concord are among the obvious. A boys team like Etiwanda, however, might not meet the criteria and also might be the fifth team from the CIFSS on the board. Under that scenario, the Eagles would go to D1 for SoCal regional playoffs. For girls, Mater Dei, Salesian, Mitty, Long Beach Poly, La Jolla Country Day, St. Mary’s of Stockton, Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, Brea-Olinda of Brea, Berkeley, Windward of Los Angeles and Serra of Gardena would be on the list. A top team like Santiago of Corona, however, which didn’t win a section title last year and was No. 12 in the final overall state rankings, might not have to go up.
7. Will the CIF choose Division V teams for the open division?
Technically, a Division V team could be lifted up into the open division because it would likely meet the criteria of winning consecutive section titles. However, unless that D5 team is loaded with college-bound players and talent, it’s not likely the CIF committee is going to move up schools that are that small, especially into a bracket with the best of the best large schools. Also, for any D5 schools in the Southern Section or North Coast Section, there already likely would be four schools ahead of any from D5 that will be in the open division. Those two sections, and all sections remember, are limited to just four teams that can be lifted up.
Do you have a question about this topic or how it might impact your school? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet it @CalHiSports.