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High Schools | CITY SECTION FOOTBALL REPORT

Playoff Meeting Not for the Meek

November 19, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Political maneuvering doesn't only occur in the halls of Washington or even Sacramento. It can be just as fervent in a high school classroom.

Football coaches and administrators gathered Saturday morning to determine the City Section playoff participants. And the annual get-together produced its usual share of fireworks.

Only this year the tone was decidedly more acrimonious, with verbal barbs being traded among the 10 members of the football advisory committee that decides the pairings. Some coaches who attended the meeting say the snide remarks were a byproduct of the new seeding format in which each of the section's eight league champions must be among the top eight seeded teams in the Championship division.

"With us having to seed all the league champions, it left us little room for at-large teams," said Los Angeles Dorsey Coach Paul Knox, who was the Coliseum League's representative to the committee. "It really cuts down the space for good teams."

L.A. Crenshaw lost only two games by a total of three points, but the Cougars, who were the Coliseum League's runners-up, could be seeded no higher than ninth if all league champions decided to remain in the Championship division.

Luckily for Crenshaw, Northern League champion Los Angeles opted to play in the Invitational division, allowing the Cougars to receive the No. 8 seeding. Unluckily for Crenshaw, its first-round opponent will be San Pedro (8-2), the Marine League runner-up.

In another example, Van Nuys Grant (7-3) won the Sunset Six League title and earned the No. 6 seeding. Granada Hills (8-2), the West Valley League's runner-up, was seeded 10th. Granada Hills beat Grant, 41-6, in Week 1.

Coaching staffs from many schools were present at the meeting as they are required to exchange game tapes with playoff opponents on the day the parings are decided. Some openly lobbied with their league representatives for spots against weaker league champions. Others, including Knox, became exasperated at the shenanigans.

"It's a shame that it's made it where people are going back and forth [with comments]," he said.

Angelo Gasca, coach of top-seeded and undefeated Venice, said a closed meeting is the solution.

"They need to take the coaches out of the mix," he said.

What is at issue is a clear gap in the quality of play between the eight leagues. Over the past decade, the Coliseum, Marine and West Valley leagues have been the strongest, winning the last nine major-division championships.

Tired of its league champion always having to play its playoff games on the road, Sunset Six League coaches raised the proposal at last year's meeting that all league champions be rewarded with home games. The proposal passed by a slim margin in a later vote.Not all agreed with the majority.

San Pedro Coach Mike Walsh said teams from weaker leagues do not deserve higher seedings and suggested that the section return to the 4-A and 3-A format last used in 1997, when schools were classified into two divisions before the season started.

"Nobody wants to admit that," Walsh said. "Maybe we need to have someone independent from coaches and administrators in the [playoff seeding] meeting. Maybe we need to have sportswriters involved. They've seen more games than [assistant commissioner] Jeff Halpern."

Paul Bryan, an assistant to Walsh at San Pedro, suggested the City follow the format used by the Southern Section, in which home games are alternated between rounds instead of the higher-seeded teams retaining home-field advantage if they win.

Granada Hills co-Coach Tom Harp suggested a compromise. He said teams should be seeded 1-16 in the bracket based on overall strength but that league champions should be guaranteed a home game in the first round regardless of where they're seeded.

"You've got to seed by strength and try to give all league champs a home game," he said. "I don't think a top team would mind going on the road in the first round."

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While the Southern Section moved four of its divisional championship games to the Home Depot Center in Carson this year, the City Section is not considering the complex for its title games at the present time.

City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege said the location of the complex and its 27,000-seat stadium works better for the Southern Section. The City championship game will be played at the Coliseum for the ninth consecutive year.

"We may look into that in the future," Fiege said. "But the Coliseum and Sports Arena [for basketball] are kind of at the center of our universe."

Fiege said it costs $40,000 to rent the Coliseum for its Championship and Invitational title games, which will be played as a doubleheader on Dec. 12.

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City top 10: 1. Venice (10-0); 2. Dorsey (10-0); 3. Crenshaw (8-2); 4. Birmingham (7-3); 5. Carson (7-3); 6. Granada Hills (8-2); 7. San Pedro (8-2); 8. Grant (7-3); 9. Bell (6-3-1); 10. Jefferson (5-5).

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