Is the revamped Southern Section basketball playoff format ingenious or idiotic?
For the 39 Ventura County boys' and girls' teams above the Small Schools Division, the latest development is largely irrelevant.
None accepted the section's invitation last week to step up and play larger schools in the playoffs. Perhaps the only surprise is that 15 boys' teams and 5 girls' teams in the section did move up. The Santa Barbara boys' team, which bumped itself from 5-A Division to 5-AA, is the only team from a league containing county teams that stepped up.
Confusion reigns and vagaries remain, however.
It is reasonable to ask why powerful Santa Clara decided to stay in the 2-A. That is one of several questions concerning the playoff structure, which for the first time groups teams strictly by enrollment. Among those questions:
Why change a system that didn't appear to need fixing?
The Southern Section wanted to conform to the format of the state tournament, which groups schools by enrollment. Several top teams--especially from private schools with relatively low enrollments--are able to play in a lower division under the new format.
"We wanted the section to take a higher profile in the state tournament," Southern Section official Dean Crowley said.
Translation: The section wanted a better chance of winning 1 or more of the 5 divisions of the tournament.
Will it be easier to make the playoffs and easier to win a Southern Section title?
Definitely, on both counts. Eighteen teams (9 boys and 9 girls) will call themselves Southern Section champions, an increase from 12 (6 boys, 6 girls) last season.
Thirty-two teams from each of the 9 divisions qualify for the playoffs, providing that teams finish either in the top 3 in their league or with an overall record of .500 or better.
Several divisions, however, won't have anywhere close to 32 teams qualify, making it much easier to make the playoffs in some divisions than in others. The 3-A consists of 65 boys' teams, while the 2-A consists of only 29. The 2-AA has 25 boys' teams.
Crowley admitted that the Southern Section bungled by creating a 2-AA division but no 3-AA. It seems that the school enrollment figures used to determine divisions were 2 years old.
"On hindsight, we should have created a 3-A and 3-AA, but only a 2-A," Crowley said.
Crowley insisted that the 2-AA would remain separate from the 2-A.
He admitted, however, that some brackets could shrink to as few as 16 or even 8 teams.
Are teams from the same league in the same playoff division?
Nope. Only enrollment determines playoff division. The Channel League, for example, could be represented in 5 separate playoff divisions. (Please see accompanying chart.)
Certain oddities exists.
Santa Clara fields probably the best boys' and girls' teams in the county but is in the 2-A. Lowly Moorpark, Fillmore and Nordhoff are 2-AA.
Why didn't Santa Clara take the opportunity to step up?
Coach Lou Cvijanovich declined to comment, but the most logical reason is that the Saints want a better chance of winning a state title--should they first win a Southern Section crown, of course.
Eight boys' teams did step up from the 2-A, but six of those moved only to the 2-AA.
And their motives are suspect.
"Some coaches, I think, believed the 2-AA to actually be easier than the 2-A," Crowley said.
Kudos to Pius X and St. Monica, both of whom vaulted themselves all the way from the 2-A to the 5-AA.
"They want to match up with the big boys," Crowley said.
The flight of 8 teams from the 2-A, as it turns out, can do nothing but help Santa Clara, which might cruise to the section title. As of Jan. 6, only 7 2-A schools that field boys' teams had records of .500 or better.
Crowley, for one, does not quarrel with Santa Clara's decision.
"I had a hunch they'd stay and I can't fault them," he said. "At first I felt they might step up because they always play competition over their heads during nonleague tournaments.
"But each coach has to do what is best for the school."
PLAYOFF GROUPINGS DIVISION I Southern Section Division 5-AA Enrollment: More than 2,400
TEAM LEAGUE Channel Islands Marmonte Royal Marmonte Simi Valley Marmonte
PLAYOFF GROUPINGS DIVISION I Southern Section Division 5-A Enrollment: 2,000-2,399
TEAM LEAGUE Buena Channel Thousand Oaks Marmonte
PLAYOFF GROUPINGS Division II Southern Section Division 4-AA Enrollment: 1,750-1,999
TEAM LEAGUE Hueneme Channel Oxnard Channel Ventura Channel Camarillo Marmonte Westlake Marmonte
Southern Section Division 4-A Enrollment: 1,500-1,749
TEAM LEAGUE Rio Mesa Channel Newbury Park Marmonte
PLAYOFF GROUPINGS State Division III Southern Section Division 3-A Enrollment: 1,000-1,499
TEAM LEAGUE Santa Paula Frontier
PLAYOFF GROUPINGS Division IV Southern Section Division 2-AA Enrollment: 750-999
TEAM LEAGUE Nordhoff Frontier Fillmore Tri-Valley Moorpark Tri-Valley
Southern Section Division 2-A Enrollment: 400-749
TEAM LEAGUE La Reina Tri-Valley * Santa Clara Frontier St. Bonaventure Tri-Valley
PLAYOFF GROUPINGS Division V Southern Section Division 1-A Enrollment: 150-399
TEAM LEAGUE Oak Park Tri-Valley
* Denotes girls only.