The high school football playoffs in California this December will have a refreshing and needed twist. And bravo for the flexibility to change.
The CIF announced Monday the top team in Northern California and the best from Southern California will receive automatic bids to the CIF State Open Division championship game in Carson without having to play in regional title games. This is especially welcomed news in the Sac-Joaquin Section and for programs such as Bee No. 1 Folsom, suddenly with an extra bounce in its step.
Had this been the formula in each of the previous two seasons, when the Open was created to pit heavyweight programs against each other, Folsom might have added two more state championships to go with the one it won in 2010. The Bee’s top-ranked team in 2012 and 2013, and No. 2 in NorCal, Folsom lost to national powerhouse De La Salle of Concord in the NorCal Open games. It was the hurdle the undefeated Bulldogs could not clear in either season. It’s important to note De La Salle hasn’t lost to a NorCal school since 1991, so this isn’t a Folsom problem. It continues to be a “De La Salle owns the North” wave of momentum.
If Folsom this season were to win the D-I or D-II section title (enrollment figures won’t be announced until later this fall), and if undefeated De La Salle cruised to another North Section championship, the schools would not play in a NorCal Open championship.
That ship has sailed.
NorCal No. 1 De La Salle would automatically represent Northern California in the State Open Bowl game, and Folsom would play another Bay Area school – one that Folsom would match up better with – in a D-I or D-II regional final.
The CIF told its member schools the Open Regional games were a two-year test cycle of sorts, then backed it up.
“It’s not often that every section in the state agrees on something, but they did on this one,” CIF associate executive director Ron Nocetti said. “All 10 agreed on this, unanimous.”
And this bowl tweak allows public schools a fighting chance, as history shows the highest-division teams are generally the private powerhouse programs.
“I agree with the change, and it’s the right thing to do,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “We’re a better program because we played De La Salle, but I always felt this was the answer. You put the two best teams in the state in the same game, at the State Bowl, and let everyone else compete. Before, we knew what the path was, De La Salle, and we didn’t gripe. It’s going to be a blast to see Bay Area teams against our area teams for the NorCal title. It’s good for everyone.”
Added CIF executive director Roger Blake: “It’s healthy for the CIF, healthy for high school sports. As high school sports continue to evolve, so do we. How can we make things better, and make it a fair competition? We’re always discussing that.”
The CIF has benefited from the evolution of the state bowl format – more showdowns, more experiences, more revenue – and is exploring ideas of more expansion. After decades of football seasons ending after section championships, the state bowl started with three divisions in 2006 and grew to five in 2008. California will never have a full-fledged playoff like other states because there are too many teams and too many differences in enrollments (D-I teams in the Northern Section with 1,500 students equate to D-III in the south, for example).
Last season, 48 California teams won football section championships. Only 18 in four divisions went to regional games.
“We had 30-some other teams winning section titles, feeling good about themselves, wanting to continue, and they’re shaking their heads wondering what more they can do,” Blake said. “Maybe there’s a way. We’ll all meet again, and decide, ‘No more talk. Let’s come up with some proposals, some drafts, pencil it out and ask, ‘Is it feasible?’ ”