Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Open Division in regional, state basketball playoffs should be closed to public schools

Jordan Ford of Folsom High School celebrates his teams 5-49 victory over Sheldon during the San Joaquin Section Division I Championship at Sleep Train Arena on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Sacramento.
Jordan Ford of Folsom High School celebrates his teams 5-49 victory over Sheldon during the San Joaquin Section Division I Championship at Sleep Train Arena on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Sacramento.

Ten section commissioners and a crew of basketball tournament directors met in Southern and Northern California on Sunday to discuss the regional boys and girls playoffs that start this week throughout the state.

Data was crunched. Rankings picked and re-picked, common opponents and strength of schedule considered. The most difficult task was seeding the Open Division teams, particularly the boys.

The Open is deemed the elite division, created by the CIF three years ago to give programs a fighting chance to win championships in the other divisions. In other words, the top-tier teams, some of national renown, are Open material.

It’s not necessarily working, however. There are cracks in the foundation of an otherwise sound idea.

Here’s a simple solution: Make the Open Division exclusive to the private schools, which are usually the state’s top basketball programs. Private schools don’t have offseasons and are not restricted by residential boundaries, as public schools are.

Public schools experience cycles. Folsom won Sac-Joaquin Section Division I boys titles in 2008 and 2009, then had 12 wins in each of the next three seasons. The breakthrough came last season, a 32-3 campaign capped by the NorCal D-II championship.

On Saturday, Folsom held off Sheldon 50-49 in the D-I section final and was awarded the No. 4 seed in the NorCal Open Division. Folsom players and coaches are fine with their Open status, though they were perplexed about how the Bulldogs got a lower seed than Moreau Catholic of Hayward. The selection crew gave Moreau the No. 3 seed, in effect rewarding the Mariners for losing their North Coast Section D-III final to state No. 1 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland.

More telling is how section final losers wind up being regional seedings winners. Sheldon, which lost to Folsom, was granted the No. 2 seed in the NorCal D-I field. De La Salle of Concord, which lost the North Coast Section D-I final to Monte Vista of Danville on two missed free throws with half a second to play, was rewarded with the top seed in D-I.

Monte Vista, a public school that won the D-I state title a year ago, is the No. 2 Open seed. Its reward? An opening-round game against Modesto Christian, which beat The Bee’s No. 1 team, Sacramento, 49-46 in the D-II section final. Modesto Christian is considered by many to be the top team in the Sac-Joaquin Section, yet in a sense it was slighted by the selection committee with a No. 7 seeding.

Sacramento’s consolation for Saturday’s loss? The top seed in D-II.

The McClatchy girls lost to nationally ranked St. Mary’s of Stockton in the section D-I final and wound up with the No. 1 seed in the NorCal D-I scramble (St. Mary’s is in the Open Division). Oak Ridge lost handily to McClatchy in the section semifinals and was granted the No. 2 seed in the D-I field.

So what’s the theme here? It pays to lose a section final, or a section semifinal? Has the Open Division devalued the section rounds and thinned out the NorCal fields?

“It’s ironic,” Folsom coach Mike Wall said. “If Sheldon makes that last shot (and wins the game), they increase our chances of winning a state title. It’s ridiculous.”

Wall is correct. Sheldon’s chances of winning NorCal and state titles are greater than Folsom navigating through the Open.

“That’s the Pleasant Grove issue of a couple of years ago, where (the boys team) lost to Sheldon three times in league and in the section finals and went on to win the state D-I title, while Sheldon lost the state Open finals,” said CIF senior director Brian Seymour. “We understand how people feel. But (CIF executive director) Roger Blake has the great quote. There are teams playing elite-level ball, with tremendous talent, scheduling big teams. It’s like taking honors math classes all year, and then when the test comes, you want to take the easier geometry test. To make the Open Division, it means you’re truly one of the top teams in the state. And in the Open, there’s no place to hide.”

Seymour said the CIF is open to suggestions, but everything must go through a process.

“We’re a grass-roots organization, the ground up,” he said. “We don’t sit in the office and send directives down. Everything comes from our schools and sections. It’s a vetting process. This isn’t the NCAA where we say, this is how it’s going to be. There’s always something we can improve on as an organization. We listen.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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