Primer for CIF Basketball Open Division

Players from La Jolla Country Day’s girls team show off their hardware from 2011 CIF Division IV state championship. They are Malina Hood, Kelsey Plum and Maya Hood.

There’s no secret that the CIF state basketball playoffs, for both boys and girls, has needed a shot in the arm for a long time. The addition of the open division could be the trick.

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.

Criteria include:
*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 or tweet it @CalHiSports.

34 Responses “Primer for CIF Basketball Open Division” →
  1. Hi Mark, McClymonds of the Oakland Athletic League (OAL), Oakland Section. I know they’re enrollment is under 600 and the OAL always compete in D1 in basketball. McClymonds is favored to win their section this year and expected to go deep into the NorCal playoffs. Do you see a change with them moving to the Open Division or staying D1 depending on how the season unfolds for all teams?

    Thanks Mark.

    • One of the criteria is winning two straight section titles so technically McClymonds could be taken up to the Open Division. I would think, though, that with the Oakland commissioner in the room that if this year’s team isn’t considered to be that strong that it would be brought up and that the team could stay D1. It does probably depend on how strong other teams are and who knows if the Mack players and coaches may really want to play in the Open Division no matter what and that could carry some weight.


  2. calicorey

    February 17, 2013

    3 questions;

    !). Mirimonte has been told they would be eligible for the “open” division. Their last section championship was in 2008. Why would they get the nod over other teams more deserving? It looks like NCS politics in play to me.

    2). Castro Valley (13-13) played their hearts out against A superior, but vulnerable, Bishop Odowd on Friday night. They lost 68-65. You could argue a lucky basket may have swung this loss to a win for this talented team! Yet even in a league where every other male team had at least a winning record they were left out of the Division one playoffs!! I am saddened by this! I think Castro Valley at the end of this season would have been a team ready to upset whoever they had played in the first round. Why were they so cruelly overlooked?

    3). Who, in your opinion, are the likely teams for the new open division state invitational ? Will it be a north south format or seeded by their state or national rank?

    • 1. I still haven’t gotten an explanation for which criteria Miramonte girls are meeting. It’s not politics, though, because there is criteria that teams have to meet in order to be eligible. It’s not people sitting in a room voting on teams.

      2. Don’t know why Castro Valley was left out of NCS playoffs. Haven’t spent time analyzing too many No. 15 and No. 16 seeds this season. As a statewide blog, our focus admittedly doesn’t get that detailed.

      3. It’s going to be a north vs. south state open division final (boys and girls). The south boys final may be rematch of CIFSS final between Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly while in the north could be Sheldon vs. Salesian. The south girls final likely to be Mater Dei vs. Windward. In the north, even though they just played, to me still looks like O’Dowd vs. Stockton St. Mary’s. Rankings will help with the seedings in both divisions just like they always are but remember that championship teams tend to have the travel edge over runner-up teams.


  3. calicorey

    February 18, 2013


    As always, thank you for your reply. My concern is this. Ole Chiavini was on the CIF Manager Board. He is originally the director for the DFAL league. of which Miramonte is a member. He also has a soft spot for Miramonte (Hey..we all have high school teams we favor…right?) He has now retired. Has been for about a year of two. BUT he also is still on a first name basis with these people who make the decisions who extend the invites for the “Open” division. Could he have made a few calls to have them “extend” an invite to Miramonte? He might be calling in a past favor, right? Maybe that is why you are not getting an explination what criteria that Miramonte met ?

    Ole Chiavini has been instrimental in making both the CIF and the NCS into the powerhouse it is today! For over 18 seasons, he helped laid the groundwork for the policies and procedures that have helped propell the section and the state into a great era of competition it is in today! This year, 2013, the NCS alone had three people selected for the McDonalds High School All American Basketball team (Jabari Bird, Marcus Lee, and Oderah Chidom), the most by any region in the country! California had a total of 7 of these All Americans in Basketball, the most of ANY state. He is one of those people who tirelessly helped propell the area and state competition to a much higher status!! If you ever have a chance to speak to him, he is a wealth of information on the high school sports developement in this state. I bet you could write a book on what he has accomplished!! We were blessed to have him in our area dedicating himself as he did!!

    Now what if he did make some calls to extend an invite? Was he breaking any rules? It doesnt appear it would have. But would Miramonte have been told they would be eligable for the “open” division if they were in a section that was not as “politcally connected”? I dont believe they would have! That is the concern for me. I do know that the CIF will review their policies at the end of the year. I do know that this “Open” division and its results will be talked about. I am hoping that they will enact a “Miramonte rule” so things like this cannot happen again. Please keep asking them these tough questions. This will keep them on their toes and more likely to do the “right” thing. In the long run it will help the states sports programs maintain the level of trust they need to ensure the high school athletes get a “fair” break. Again this is just my opinion, but something is not transparent and upfront with the Miramonte invite when they dont meet any of the cirteria. Otherwise they would have responded quickly to make everyone understand how it was done and no more questions would have been asked.

    • Your response is curious because Miramonte’s girls clearly do not want to be in the open division. There’s no “extending” of an invitation. If they wanted someone to do a favor for the school, it would be NOT to be in the open division. They know just like everyone that it’s probably O’Dowd and then everyone else in NorCal this year. They have a chance to win a D3 state title, but in the open they’ll be out probably before the NorCal final.

  4. You dont think that the “Open” Division, the “best of the best” will be seen as the real State Championship and the Division state championships as the “Minor” championships in the next few years? Like almost comparing the MLB World Baseball Series championship series to the Minor league Championship series in the AAA, AA and A levels?

    Do you feel that the TV revenue that this could potentially bring in makes this a very viable CIF income stream in the future? Is this the real reason the CIF is slowly expanding state championships into other sports?

    We already have high school teams (I.E. De La Salle) appearing on national TV for football games. The exposure and the excitement it creates increase the participation and awareness of the sports throughout the state! Do you think eventually a California High school TV channel could be started broadcasting games throughout the state ?

    Also dont count out St Marys (Stockton). They lost at Odowd. Everyone gets burned in the Dragon Dome! On a neutral site, it will be a different story!!

    • I thought that was what I was trying to say. Teams like Miramonte, though, that haven’t won a state title before still are going to want to possibly win one in a division in which they have a much more realistic chance of doing so.

    • The CIF is clearly hoping, planning and will state with conviction that they believe the other state champions will not be viewed as some kind of minor league champion compared to the open division. The trick will be to see if that happens. If there’s a state champion in a lower division that has a 30-point loss to a team that had to play in the open division and lost that argument will be very hard to make. We’ll just have to see how it plays out this first year.

      I do think TV dollars does contribute to the open divisions but not so much the expansion into some of these other sports. As for a California TV channel broadcasting games everywhere, I do not think there would be enough viewership for something that big. We’re not Texas and never will be. What we will see are more live stream video feeds about top games in all sports. It’s way cheaper to do that than broadcasts.

  5. If serra gardena wins cif will there go to the open division?

    • If girls beat Windward, then yes they’ll likely be in the open division.
      The boys are eligible to be taken as well.
      What could prevent both or one from going up is that CIFSS has a limit of four teams each for south boys and south girls open divisions.


  6. NorCalSF21

    February 26, 2013

    In Nor Cal. The Open division will make the Division CCS Section Champions a 2nd tier champ. It would give me NO joy as a Public School to win a CCS Division Championship when the good teams in my division are in the Open Division. Its become a Pity Party for the public schools. High School Basketball is NOT about winning Championships. Its about developing young minds. Who cares if certain schools are at a disadvantage championship wise. That should be a motivator to be better. Something to strive for. Who wants a 2nd tier trophy?. The Philosophy of making things equal is not realistic. Thats not life and that’s not the lessons that kids need to hear. “Oh its too hard for you… well instead of you working harder to be better… we will just accomodate you”. This sort of philosophy makes for soft minded spoiled individuals. Oh and consolation games in the Open Div?… Really? Consolation games?… This is the playoffs not a holiday tournament. Any team in the Open Div will pretty much ignore CCS Section Championships, b/c it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Why? B/c you have already earned your NorCal tourney bid and it is not a 1-done tourney anymore. So basically CCS becomes a tune-up for NorCal for anyone in the Open. Its like extended practice games. Also… the Final Four in the Open Div CCS… are ALL from the same league. Do you think playing the same team 4 times in a season is practical?… Well.. welcome to the world of Open Division. Don’t pity Public Schools… Separate them COMPLETELY.. or do nothing. The half-way Philosophy of catering to Public Schools creates more issues than it solves.

    • Great post. I am not sure that too many people will see it here on this part of our site, however. Please consider re-posting on this week’s divisional rankings (coming out tomorrow) for both boys and girls. I can copy-paste it myself if you like.


  7. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    You note that one of the criteria is to have qualified for Regional final 3 out of last 4 years? Is that a NorCal Section criteria? Southern Section is only to have played in Regional Final the last 2 years. At least that what is published on line. I noticed you originally wrote that in November and it may have been revised. Now that we have our Section’s Division Champs, I would be curious to see if you think that St. John Bosco will be selected in Open Division. They qualify under the criteria I mention above but otherwise wouldn’t. But are 3A Div Champs in SoCal and start (and really only play) 5 D1 offered players/prospects. Seems they would be a good draw with the only McDonalds All American on their team as well, in Isaac Hamilton.

    • Bosco does not qualify for the open division based on criteria. Just making it into the regional playoffs last year is not enough. I confirmed this today with CIF state official. Same case as Deer Valley in the north. Bosco can be in the open if they petition for it. Of course, they are good enough to be in it. We have them ranked that high.


  8. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    Bosco may also qualify in rankings but I am not sure about that one, And I meant to say that Isaac Hamilton is the only McDonalds All American “in SoCal” this year..
    Since the State Division Brackets are being announced tomorrow, unless you reply before they are, I guess we will know who is in before you can share you opinion about Bosco. Still i’d be interested, even after the fact. I think they are the most talented team in SoCal. And they played with minimal “lapses”, that they sometimes go through, during the finals game vs Chaminade today. And they shot the ball really well from 3 which is not the norm. But they didn’t always play hard this year. They just seem to do enough to win most of the time.. I think they would be a sure pick to Open Division, personally. Just to be on the record….thanks.


  9. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    Not rankings either? They surely won’t petition.

    • Bosco was not in the top 10 overall of the state last season. They have to ask to get moved up. Entirely up to the school. I’m not suggesting at all that they don’t belong. They are strong enough to play with anybody.


  10. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    Agreed, I’m only saying that there is no reason for them to move up voluntarily, really. Unless Coach is so confident after today that they decide they want to prove something (and he kind of sounded like it in post-game interview). But only two losses to Mater Dei in league more likely to convince them to stay in Div 3 and increase chances to put up State Banner. Thx


  11. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    Hi Mark,
    In your interpretation, what does this following Open Division Qualifying Criteria (written the same way in both Northern and Southern Cal State Playoff Basketball Handbooks as the second bullet point criteria:

    “A school qualifies for the second straight year after competing in the state or regional
    final the previous year.”

    Qualifies for what?
    Is this simply saying that if a school qualifies for state or regional final the previous two years, then this year they qualify to be chosen for Open, if what? they make Regional playoffs again?
    Or qualifies for State Regional PLAYOFFS for a second consecutive year, after qualifying for state or regional final the previous year?
    Help? I cannot get any answers from CIFSS. Or AD friends up north. (They laughed at the mention of it, becuase they knew what sentence i was going to ask about). Or anyone who understands the sentence.

    Would love your opinion…

    • That’s not in the criteria the media was ever given. Obviously, that would effect Bosco boys or Miramonte girls. The CIF has been absolutely horrible communicating the criteria to media, coaches, everyone.


  12. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    THANK YOU SO MUCH. Very well said. And I thought I was losing my mind…
    I see now Bosco taken into Open Division. Comment by unnamed SoCal (Veteran) High School Sports reporter, he tweeted “St. John Bosco taken in Open Division but didn’t apply for it. That means Criteria meant nothing.” To his defense, if my livelihood depended on my accuracy in reporting and thus, CIF dissemenation of information, I would have blown a gasket. I almost blew one anyway. My son plays for Chaminade and it makes a huge difference to the remainder of our season where St. John Bosco plays…,
    Thanks for your replies so quickly….I have you bookmarked…


  13. tgchho24

    March 3, 2013

    So bottom line, interpretation of that sentence was Bosco qualified with Regional final vs Alemany last year and in Region playoffs again this year. Which is what I thought but couldn’t find anyone to agree with me….and could not understand why. At least North Region doesn’t have to deal with reading the chicken scratch of a mess of SSection’s new “Weighted Point System” for division playoff placement based on schools playoff performance over last 4 YEARS?? Really? 4 years? As a senior, I am being put in a Division, 1-2 divisions up from where I played as a sophomore, because we made finals a couple of years, but NEVER WON. And now I’m the senior and our underclassmen aren’t what we were to our seniors. We can’t even compete in this division now. That’s IF we even get in playoffs, which Alemany did not as a top 100 ranked team in state. Since first round games in every division were a joke in SS, this was a travesty not to make room for Alemany somewhere. It is LUDICROUS. You honestly could not make this stuff up.

    • Well, actually we still don’t know. Derrick Taylor told the AD this morning that the team wanted to go up to the open division and that was the last he knew about it until finding out they were in the open. Therefore, it could be that Bosco went up because it wanted or because of being in a regional final last year. Eventually, guess we’ll find out which one it was.


  14. CCS4ever

    March 3, 2013

    last month NorCalSF21 said a CCS title would be diluted and publics would not be proud to win. Try telling that to Burlingame after they won their first ever CCS title on Saturday! They looked plenty happy to me.

    • Congrats to Burlingame boys. I’m sure they were happy and by winning they prevented the private schools from still sweeping in the CCS even with the new open division.


      • NorCalSF21

        March 4, 2013

        Congrats to Burlingame? For what? winning a tournament WITHOUT the best teams in their division? They get to hang a banner… whopee for them? Sacred Hearth Cathedral is the 4 time D3 CCS Champs. Not this year b/c they are in the Open Div. Makes way for all the secondary teams like Burlingame who would get waxed by 15+ vs Cathedral. And Burlingame is our D3 CCS Champs this year and SHC gets nothing?… Really? CCS Championships used to mean something. Now… All the division champs come complete with an asterisk. The only way it means something is if none of the teams in your div were taken by the OPEN. Winning a secondary tourney without the best teams is not a championship. Its a token trophy. Burlingame will hang their banner… but if they were to boast to someone who knew the deal… They would get a smirk. It just doesn’t count in the true world of competition. Let me quote someone here… “The CCS is like the make-a-wish-foundation. Making Public School dreams come true.”

  15. tgchho24

    March 4, 2013

    Mark, I am assuming you read the article you were quoted in by Sondheimer. It seemed Coach Taylor was not happy at the way it was handled by CIF. I took that as he was waiting to see what CIF was going to do and did not submit request. Because if he submitted request, he got what he wanted and likely would not have said that they should have scrapped the whole thing. But you’re right, we may never really know for sure.
    However, you did read that sentence I sent and interpreted it the same way i did. And it is in the CIF State Playoff Handbook as one of the criteria. When I look at all of that, it feels to me like they were selected based on criteria, and did not submit request.
    BTW, is this the first year the CCS has had an Open Division?

    • First year for CCS Open. Eric called me basically as I was going over the pairings for the first time. Still haven’t changed by opinion about them. Open divisions may work in football, even in the CCS, but it doesn’t look good so far in basketball. Burlingame’s CCS D3 title also may look even more suspect after the NorCal D3 playoffs because Sacred Heart Cathedral is in it as well.


  16. tgchho24

    March 5, 2013

    Agreed… Open in Football vs basketball. Open Division may have sounded like a good idea for hoops. But if you think about it, who benefits? Most teams that will win it will likely be from highest division anyway so they already feel they are playing the best. Lower divisions risk being called diluted State Titles. CIF gets more grief. So, what was the up side again? A true best of best State Champion? Not worth it at this cost to add a few teams that in most years will not win Open Div anyway.

4 Trackbacks For This Post
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