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Eric Sondheimer / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

State-title matchups have a flaw

December 11, 2006|Eric Sondheimer

Supporters of the inaugural CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games like to say "nothing is perfect" when complaints are made about the selection process.

They better come up with a better excuse or, more important, promise changes for next season after the announcement Sunday of the six high school teams selected to play in a tripleheader Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Forgive me for being a party pooper, but the three games are going to produce little drama and settle absolutely nothing when it comes to determining who's the best football team in the state.

Here's the problem, and it's a big one: State officials could not match No. 1 vs. No. 2, or even No. 2 vs. No. 3 because their rules require separating schools by enrollment and picking only section champions. In the end, there were 47 schools eligible to be chosen for six spots.

In Division I, Concord De La Salle (13-0), which is ranked No. 1 in the state by CalHiSports.com and won the North Coast Section 4-A title, will face Northern Division champion Canyon Country Canyon (11-2) in the 7:30 p.m. game.

In Division II, Orange Lutheran (13-1), the Pac-5 Division champion, will play Palo Alto (12-1), the Central Coast Section Open Division champion, at 3:30 p.m.

In Division III, Westlake Village Oaks Christian (14-0), ranked in the top 10 nationally by several publications and the Northwest Division champion, will play Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman (13-1), the North Coast Section 3-A champion, at 11 a.m.

There was nothing surprising about the selections. All six teams were ranked No. 1 by CalHiSports.com in their respective bowl divisions. But what's the point of holding bowl games if nothing is going to be resolved?

After De La Salle, Orange Lutheran and Oaks Christian demolish their respective opponents, we'll still be arguing over who's best. And that's what Saturday's tripleheader will be about: comparing the three top teams and nothing else.

When the games are finished, these unanswered questions will remain:

* How good is Oaks Christian?

* Who's the most valuable quarterback in Southern California, USC-bound Aaron Corp of Orange Lutheran or Notre Dame-bound Jimmy Clausen of Oaks Christian?

* Is De La Salle anywhere close to the level it was when it won 151 consecutive games from 1992 to 2004?

I have sympathy for the 10 CIF commissioners who met in a room Sunday at the Home Depot Center and made their selections. They did their job well under the restrictions given to them and picked the most deserving teams. It was impressive that they stuck to their guidelines and gave great importance to strength of schedule, selecting only two of the eight unbeaten teams eligible.

But they better start huddling soon to find a way to match the best teams regardless of enrollment for next season because that's the only way to lend credibility to their format.

And there are more issues that need attention.

High school sports is supposed to be the last bastion of innocence, where participants aren't influenced by promises of media exposure or financial benefits. But every year, that line becomes more blurred, if not erased.

The growing coverage of high school football on television, in newspapers and via the Internet is creating teenage celebrities, raising expectations and putting extraordinary pressure on individuals that could lead to problems associated with the college and professional scene.

There are already signs of a discomforting development with the bowl games, that of coaches, fans and even players making negative arguments against teams being selected.

This was one of the inevitable outcomes of asking commissioners to sit in a room, nominate teams from their area and then vote without showing any bias.

It must not be forgotten that 47 schools won section titles, making it through ups and downs over a 14-week season, and no one can take away their achievements.

How many fans will come to watch the festivities Saturday is unknown. There's a 40% chance of rain Saturday, according to weather.com. All the games will be televised live by FSN Prime Ticket. And close to 1,000 cheerleaders have already signed up to compete in a state cheerleading championship on the same site.

It should be an exciting day for the teams involved, but it would be a historic day if a real state championship game in football were taking place. The last time it happened was 1927.

It's up to the CIF to come up with a more credible format in the future.

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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Team of the '20s

The CIF motto for the inaugural State Football Championship Bowl Games is "79 Years of Waiting ..." The thought might have been completed as " ... for another team to win the championship." One school, Bakersfield, dominated the last playoff program that decided the state champions, from 1920 to '27. The title-game results:

* 1920 -- Bakersfield 14, Berkeley 3

* 1921 -- Bakersfield 0, Berkeley 0

* 1922 -- Bakersfield 18, Berkeley 12

* 1923 -- Bakersfield 27, San Francisco Lick-Wilmerding 13

* 1924 -- Berkeley 9, Bakersfield 0

* 1925 -- Bakersfield 14, Covina 13

* 1926 -- San Mateo 20, Covina 0

* 1927 -- Bakersfield 38, Fullerton 0

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Source: Cal-Hi Sports

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