Central Section Adjusts Divisional Placement Weeks Before Winter Playoffs Start

Clovis West junior Etoyah Montgomery takes a shot during last year’s Open Division girls’ basketball title game. Basketball and soccer will be immediately impacted by the newly updated playoff format. (Gabe Camarillo/Clovis Roundup)

The CIF Central Section Board of Managers met in Visalia Tuesday with a new proposal for high school playoffs on the agenda.

Computer-based rankings have determined a school’s divisional placement for playoffs in bracketed sports this season, notably for football and girls’ volleyball in the fall. 

As winter sports like basketball and soccer near playoffs, the Board of Managers discussed an update to the playoff system due to complaints that the current model negatively affects low-enrollment schools.

At the meeting, representatives for small schools said the current system, in which no team has a set division and placement is fluid, led to multiple football teams competing several divisions above or below their traditional level.

One representative mentioned the Dos Palos football team, which went 10-0 in the regular season but jumped from Division-V to Division-II in playoffs. The Broncos lost in the first round, 64-13.

Under the new format, a team will have a base division prior to each season. The proposal states the base division “may change each year based on the previous three years’ results (starting in 2025-26).” 

Teams will still be ordered by computer rankings at season’s end, but under the new format, they can only rise one division above or fall one division below their base. For example, a Division-I team can fall no lower than Division-II. 

Teams have a 48-hour window after playoff seedings are posted to appeal their placement. They can also petition to have their base division elevated – but not decreased – prior to the season.

In essence, the new proposal applied “ceilings” and “floors” to the current edition.

The proposal was originally meant to be read and discussed without a vote Tuesday, but the representatives moved to make it an “emergency item” that could immediately be voted on and implemented.

By exactly the two-thirds vote necessary, 29-14, the proposal was pushed to the voting table. It was the first time Central Section commissioner Ryan Tos had ever seen that done in this section.

The proposal passed the final vote, 27-16. It will immediately impact winter sports playoffs that are 11 days away.

“The big picture is that even though this is an unconventional process that happened today,” Tos said, “it is a process, and we heard the voices of our schools. Clearly it was not a unanimous vote, but nothing very rarely is. We just think it’s important that we listen to what our schools desire and do the best with what they give us.”

For the format’s immediate implementation in basketball and soccer playoffs, the base division will be where a team competed during the 2020-21 academic year. A spring sports meeting will be held the first week of April to determine the base divisions for baseball, softball, boys’ tennis, boys’ volleyball, and badminton.

The Open Division for basketball is still the top four teams regardless of division. For example, a Division-III team can still make the boys’ basketball Open Division if they are among the top four teams ranked in MaxPreps. If the team is outside the top four, however, the highest they can play is Division-II unless they appeal.

Bracket sizes remain the same for all sports – eight teams in Division-I and 16 teams in the following divisions.

“It’ll be interesting because we will have schools that we thought were making playoffs all year,” Tos said. “Some schools might not make the playoffs… There’s definitely going to be some of that. For every decision, there’s going to be this other side that doesn’t work. We’ll make the best of it.”

Gabriel Camarillo has written for the Clovis Roundup since August 2019 and follows high school athletics, Fresno State football and former Clovis Unified student-athletes. Gabe also writes for The Collegian as a staff sports writer and works at One Putt Broadcasting as a board op for 940 ESPN radio.