When it comes to deciding who makes the high school basketball playoffs in California, emotions tend to play a significant role.
But the Sac-Joaquin Section is unique because it has never used a room of people – retired or active coaches and administrators – to fill out opening-night brackets. The section’s playoff teams have always been determined by a formula.
“In our section, human beings have never decided this, and we have no interest in changing that time-honored tradition,” section assistant commissioner John Williams said. “It’d open a Pandora’s box if we let humans do this, and other sections do. People would lie, cheat and steal to get a team into the playoffs.
“Other sections end up in court over things like this. There’s no reason to take us to court because these are the rules, and the schools voted for the rules.”
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The section playoffs started in 1972, and the brackets were predetermined – Metro League No. 1 vs. Capital Athletic League No. 3, for example. Starting in 1988, a power ratings formula was used, with 70 percent based on league wins and 30 percent on nonleague wins.
Last year, the board of directors, representatives from the section’s 27 leagues, voted to change to a formula similar to the original one. The argument was the power ratings had a lot of inconsistencies, such as as a third-place team in a league advancing while a second-place team did not.
The new format, described by section media relations director Will DeBoard as an “Olympic model,” mandates every league has up to three playoff teams. Leagues that had the most postseason success the previous season would be awarded a fourth team.
This idea has worked out fine for the girls this season, but there are three glaring red flags for the boys.
Burbank could win 19 games and not get into the Division II playoffs; Woodcreek could have 18 victories and not get into the D-I field; and Liberty Ranch, with 17 wins, did not qualify in D-IV.
Williams has mixed feelings, because he’s human. He’s crunching numbers and debating ideas with section Commissioner Pete Saco on how to refine the formula.
Williams’ son, Josh, is the Liberty Ranch coach. Liberty Ranch, which would have made the postseason under the power ratings formula, needed a victory over Cosumnes Oaks on Monday, but the Hawks came up short 89-64 and failed to secure the third-place finsh needed to qualify.
“Here’s the thing,” John Williams said. “All three of those teams – Burbank, Woodcreek and Liberty Ranch – control their destiny. It’s up to them to win games. My son says, ‘We should be going to the playoffs.’ He can argue that, but he knew he had to place in the top three to make it. You can argue all you want that you don’t like the system, but these are the rules that were voted on.”
Burbank and Woodcreek could be grumbling about the injustice while Inderkum and Stagg of Stockton get into the playoffs with 10-17 records.
Cosumnes Oaks also is in the D-II mix at 11-16, including 16 forfeits for using an ineligible player. Under the power ratings formula, Cosumnes Oaks would not have qualified, so for at least this season, Wolfpack coach Patrick Roth is a fan of the new formula.
That doesn’t soothe Burbank coach Lindsey Ferrell, whose Titans are sweating out their final days in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Conference that includes Sacramento, Kennedy and McClatchy, which beat Burbank twice. Burbank must beat Kennedy tonight to ensure a playoff berth.
“I don’t really care for this formula,” Ferrell said. “I just don’t understand it. If we have 19 or 20 wins, that’s a great season, but the system says no. We’re not just talking about wins; we’re talking about making a few stops in league play. That’s how good our league was.”
Woodcreek must beat Granite Bay tonight to advance out of the Sierra Foothill League. Granite Bay, also desperate to win to ensure a playoff spot, won the first meeting.
“I don’t like the new formula,” said Folsom coach Mike Wall, whose 24-2 team likely will earn a No. 2 seed in D-II. “There are good teams that may get left out that could contend for a section championship and won’t have a chance. I feel for them.”