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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs show unfairness of formula

All 13 of the public schools that were in the 32-team basketball playoff bracket have been eliminated, setting up a quarterfinal round of private-school matchups that look like championship games.

February 19, 2012|Eric Sondheimer

Endangered species are supposed to be protected to make sure they don't disappear entirely. But it's too late to save the endangered species in Southern Section Division 4AA basketball — public schools.

Once Big Bear was eliminated Saturday, public schools had officially vanished from the 32-team playoff bracket. The eight-team quarterfinals set for Tuesday will be all private schools, just as many had predicted when the Southern Section unveiled its new divisions in November.

The matchups look like championship games: Gardena Serra at Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Los Angeles Windward at Los Angeles Price, Torrance Bishop Montgomery at Encino Crespi, La Verne Lutheran at Westlake Village Oaks Christian. It truly is a super division for private schools and great games for sportswriters to get excited about.

But that doesn't make what's happening a time to celebrate. The 13 public schools stuck in the 4AA bracket were made the sacrificial lambs in the Southern Section formula approved by its basketball advisory committee using school enrollment and past performance over the last two years to decide division placement.

No matter how well the other divisions might turn out, what's happening in 4AA is a glaring failure in fairness. How else do you explain La Puente Workman, a league champion, losing by 51 points to Serra in a second-round game? Or public schools going 1-8 against private schools in first-round games? Or Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, going 0-12 in league, getting a playoff berth and winning its opener?

This will only add to the anger and resolve of those who advocate separating public and private schools during playoff action. But I've given up on that approach, because I'm convinced it has no chance to be accepted by the courts in California, so it would only mean wasting thousands of dollars on legal fees.

The latest Southern Section tweaking of its divisions was done to help ease the transition for the state playoffs. It's easier to choose schools for the regionals if they actually play in the same division for the section playoffs. Otherwise, you're moving schools around and it gets messy.

Something needs to change, however. Not only are public schools such as Malibu, Laguna Beach and Big Bear facing gigantic obstacles to compete, but also private schools are forced into a demolition derby. Not even the supposed No. 1 division, 1AA, will have quarterfinal matchups close to 4AA.

These are issues for the adults to resolve, because the kids just want an opportunity to showcase their skills and have fun.

"My kids just love to play basketball," Big Bear Coach Bo Kent said. "They don't care who they play, where they play."

Coach Mike LeDuc of Glendora, a member of the advisory committee, said there is no perfect plan.

"I want it to be fair for everybody, but it's not possible," he said. "The change that was made is a lot fairer for a lot more schools."

LeDuc might be right, but don't tell that to the public schools in 4AA. They have little chance to compete other than to hope they draw another public school in their opener or have two years of playoff failure, then get dropped down to 4A. But wait, isn't there another group of ambitious private schools already in 4A?

Things are a bit out of whack, but a solution is nowhere in sight.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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