Current CIF Open Division seems to do more harm than good to NorCal basketball
I’m trying. I am.
Nearly a year ago, at the conclusion of the CIF State Basketball Championships, I wrote in this space that I may have been a little too harsh on the new Open Division — a new state championship bracket created to pit the top 8 teams from the North and South, regardless of enrollment division. Despite the pre-tournament issues of confusing criteria and head-scratching selections, the Open games themselves certainly delivered. Part of the charm of the first year of the Open Division, though, was the trickle-down effect on the other divisions.
Teams like Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove in Div. I and College Park-Pleasant Hill in Div. II both had a chance to play for state titles. Had some of the higher-end programs which were bumped to Open remained in Div. I and Div. II, that may not have been the case. Pleasant Grove won it’s state final. But they were the only NorCal boys teams to win. Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland was the only NorCal girls team to win, taking the Open Div. title.
And as I look at the potential Open fields for this coming March, I’m concerned there may be more of the same on the horizon. While the Open Division will most often succeed in creating a state final of the best each end of the state has to offer, it will simultaneously be eliminating four or five legitimate state championship hopefuls along the way.
SoCal’s dearth of talent and sheer number of schools can withstand this whittling process and still produce extremely competitive programs in the other divisions. NorCal doesn’t have that same depth. At least with the CIF Football Open Division, only one of NorCal’s best teams is being eliminated.
This March there will be at least three girls teams which would be legitimate state title contenders in their own division, but will all but likely be called on for the Open. Those are Carondelet-Concord in Div. II, Miramonte-Orinda in Div. III and Salesian-Richmond in Div. IV. Only one, or if an upset occurred, possibly none would even reach the finals. Check out Clay Kallam’s look ahead to the girls NorCal tournament on Page 14 to get a better idea of what sort of craziness is in store.
The boys side presents an opposite scenario. Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland is the clear cut favorite to win the Open Division, having already beat other Open candidates like Capital Christian-Sacramento by 21 points in January. With the gap so obviously large between O’Dowd and the rest of the field, is it really necessary to send 6 or 7 more teams into the field and potentially eliminate their shot at making a deep run in their own division?
Somehow, when this two-year pilot program ends after this year, it would be interesting to see how the CIF may tweak things, if at all. Perhaps an answer would be narrowing the NorCal bracket to four teams will and keeping SoCal at eight? Or Campolindo-Moraga boys coach Matt Watson offered up a solution I hadn’t heard yet but found rather intriguing.
“Take the top eight teams, and somehow let them back in (to their own NorCal division),” Watson said. “Somehow, someway you let them back in once they’re eliminated. Maybe that means you don’t compete for your own section, and you have to compete on the road in NorCals. … I think plenty of teams would take that chance.”
That would take some creative thinking on CIF’s part to make work, but it would deliver the best of both worlds. If nothing materializes, so be it, but I know I’m not the only one hoping the CIF at least looks at ideas like this one before ordering more of the current system.
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