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Some Give Seeding Meeting an 'E'

May 26, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The most amusing part of the City Section playoff selection meeting won't be watching eight coaches squeeze into single-seat desks arranged neatly in front of a blackboard in a nutritional health classroom at Los Angeles Hamilton High.

The real entertainment value will be what takes place before, during and after the meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and ends, hopefully, before egos crack and tempers erupt.

There's never a lack of drama, be it real or concocted, in the process that gives 16 teams an invitation to the City Championship baseball playoffs, which begin Friday and end June 10 at Dodger Stadium. (Another 16 teams are chosen for the City Invitational, essentially the City's equivalent to college basketball's National Invitation Tournament.)

"You walk out of that meeting feeling like you've been in a 12-round fight," Woodland Hills El Camino Real Coach Matt LaCour said. "Every coach I've talked to said it's a bad deal. They don't like the way it's done."

At the heart of the matter is a problem unique to baseball, which has a playoff selection process unlike any other sport in the City Section.

Each of eight City Section leagues send one representative to the meeting. Each has an equal vote in the selection process.

In every City Section sport besides baseball, a school is designated to be its league's representative before the season begins, usually on a voluntary basis. That is, if Verdugo Hills volunteers to be the Sunset Six League representative before football season, the Dons' coach attends the selection meeting whether his team finished first or sixth in league.

In baseball, however, the league representatives are determined after the regular season: The champion of each league is automatically designated for the duty. Thus, there are eight coaches at the meeting who have just won league titles and want nothing more than to continue their success. That's where the fun begins.

"When you have coaches in there that have teams in the playoffs, no matter how fair they try [to] be, they always have their own interest in mind," LaCour said. "That sometimes takes precedence over what the right thing to do should be."

Last season, El Camino Real won the West Valley League, considered the City's best baseball league. LaCour was the league representative for the selection meeting and the Conquistadores were seeded No. 3. No problem, LaCour said.

But Chatsworth, a perennially strong team that finished third in the West Valley League last season, was seeded No. 6 with the sole intention of making El Camino Real's playoff path more difficult, LaCour said. Indeed, Chatsworth defeated El Camino Real in the quarterfinals, 13-6.

"As soon as their name went up on the board for the sixth seed, every coach in that room saw the potential of Chatsworth and us matching up in the second round," LaCour said. "It was pretty blatant. They're going to try and do it again this year."

LaCour isn't the only coach who questions the system.

Reseda Cleveland was seeded No. 15 last season after finishing fourth in the West Valley League, but the Cavaliers won the City Championship. They are in a similar situation after again finishing fourth in the West Valley League. It's not known if Cleveland will make the City Championship playoffs, but Coach Joe Cascione has his own thoughts about the selection process.

"The way they do it is real archaic -- some people vote, some people don't vote, some people vote twice and nobody catches it," Cascione said. "Some people are so clueless they don't know if things are coming or going. Basically, they're looking out for themselves. If you're a good team, they don't want to play you in the second round or the semifinals. They want you in the other side of the bracket."

LaCour believes the selection process should be similar to the Southern Section's, which has small committees of two or three coaches who submit a final regular-season top 10 in each division to the Southern Section. The section office then determines the 32-team brackets for each of the six divisions.

"They get more of a level playing field in the [Southern Section], a better draw," LaCour said. "There's never anybody that comes out and says, 'Hey man, we just got worked.' There's nobody with their own agenda inside that meeting."

The only way the selection process can change is for the baseball coaches to change it.

There are 20 baseball coaches on the City advisory committee for the sport. As per City rules, the advisory committee is the only entity that can change the playoff selection process. LaCour is a member of the committee.

"We've talked about it here [among City Section officials] but it's not our place to change it.... It's up to the coaches," said Jeff Halpern, section assistant commissioner. "Everybody talks and grunts and grumbles but everybody sits back and waits for someone else to do it. Talk is cheap."

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