Once again, I begin with a "back in the day."
Back in the day, your school only went to the playoffs if you won your league championship. There were no second- or third-place teams that qualified. There weren’t a bunch of divisions either. Be the best or you didn’t get to play any longer.
I’m not certain when this all changed. It probably started at the professional level. Remember when baseball had just two teams reach the playoffs — the winners of the National League pennant and American League pennant?
They met in a best-of-seven-game World Series and there was a champion. Then an extra division was added in each league and there was a preliminary round, before the World Series. Now there are three divisions in each league and two wild card teams.
In professional basketball there are 16 playoff qualifiers. There is really no need for divisions because if a team is in the top eight of each conference, it makes the playoffs.
In football it used to be that just conference winners played for the title, but now there are so many divisions and then wild card teams that fully 12 of the 32 teams make the playoffs.
College basketball went from 32 teams in UCLA’s heyday to over 64 today.
I realize all of this has been done for money, but what troubles me is that it has filtered down to the high school level. Do we really need 13 divisions in the CIF Southern Section in the football playoffs where there are 16 teams per division?
That’s over 200 teams making the playoffs.
I find this excessive. I also see that it makes for some really meaningless championships. A few years back, a local football program asked to be moved from its division because it just couldn’t win a title. The school had about 1,000 students but were put in a playoff division where most of the schools had only 200-300 students. They won a championship, but...
In high school basketball there are 10 divisions in the Southern Section but that is really unimportant as well as over half of all the schools in the section make the playoffs. Does a 2-20 team deserve to be in the playoffs? It has happened so they can fill up the brackets.
In 1987 when California started a state playoff for cross country, there were three divisions: Division 3( 0-800); Division 2 (801-1,600); Division 1 (1,601 and above).
To me this seemed about right. But over the years they kept changing and adding the number of playoff qualifiers. I think this waters down the competition.
Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that you aren’t good enough at the time, but if you work hard and give your best, your time may come.
In my 35 years of coaching, we never had a CIF title in either track or cross country. We finished in the top 10 over 30 times and in the top five over 20 times.
Would I have liked to win a CIF team title? Sure, but it didn’t happen. I accept that. I did not want the playoff competition watered down just so I could achieve that goal.
It isn’t about my record, it is about the spirit of competition and doing the very best you can. We aren’t supposed to use the word pride anymore but I was more proud of my little teams when they finished fourth in the playoffs against teams four times their size than if they had beaten up on schools much smaller.
And on a side note, all of these playoff entrants lengthens the playoff season. Our student-athletes miss too much school because of it. Academics should remain the number one priority.
I realize probably nothing will change as even at this level it is too much about money and not enough about fun, but you never know.