From the outside looking in, the role of CIF San Diego Section Commissioner Jerry Schniepp must be the administrative equivalent of herding cats. There are 120 member schools in the county, each with a passionate athletic following. In addition, every coach, administrator and parent is more than willing to share their opinions on virtually every aspect of each sport. Then there is the media, which likes to weigh in on all issues, but we’ll put them aside for now.
Last week the CIF Board of Managers voted to approve a dramatic change in the way championships are conducted in the San Diego Section, by moving away from classifying schools by student enrollment for playoff divisions. Instead the sports of football, girls volleyball, baseball, plus boys and girls lacrosse will have Open Divisions which will include the strongest programs in the section, irrespective of their enrollment.
Coronado Unified Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Felix is the vice chairman of the CIF Board of Managers and he provided his thoughts on the new playoff plan. “I think the alignment will create a more exciting playoff atmosphere and new rivalries among schools. Perennial favorites will be challenged and those who have one good year won’t be hurt. Extending the record over a five-year period of time will mean that having just one good year won’t move you out of contention. For Coronado it means we will excellent competition for our consistently skilled and winning teams such as lacrosse, soccer and water polo.”
Starting with the 2013-14 school year the plan may be expanded to include boys and girls water polo, boys and girls soccer and softball. Largely individual sports such as cross country, golf, tennis, swimming and track and field will not be affected. After the Open Division, the rest of the divisions will be created by a five-year weighted formula which measures a school’s success in a particular sport, based on playoff appearances and overall competitive strength.
The new plan starts in the spring for three Coronado High School teams including boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse and baseball. The Islander girls lacrosse team is ranked No. 1 in the county over the past five years and Coronado boys lacrosse is No. 2. Both will compete in the newly created Open Division this spring.
Baseball which competed in Division IV last year when school enrollment was the deciding placement factor, will jump to Division II this spring. Coronado is ranked 36th among the 105 schools in San Diego County which field baseball teams.
The reason for the playoff format change is relatively simple. CIF administrators thought that the power in prep sports was centered in too few schools. During the 2011-12 school year, just five schools won 48 percent of the divisional titles in the San Diego Section and one of those schools was Coronado. Contributing to the perceived ‘problem’ from last year was the Islander Athletic Department, which won six CIF titles in the sports of boys and girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse, boys water polo and girls cross country.
An interesting case in point is the CHS girls lacrosse team, which has been one of the strongest programs in San Diego County since the CIF held the first lacrosse championship event in 2002. For 11 years all of the lacrosse schools played in one division. Coronado reached the CIF Finals in 2008 and 2010, losing the championship game by one goal both times. In 2011 the CIF went to two divisions based on student enrollment and Coronado defeated Cathedral Catholic 13-3 in the Division II Finals. The next year the Islanders defeated Canyon Crest 15-3. Both games were even more lopsided than the final scores might suggest.
Somewhat surprisingly one of the most strident voices against splitting the lacrosse divisions in two was Islander Head Coach Jessica Battle. Simply stated Battle wants to play against the best. “I am one of those coaches who would prefer the competition,” Battle said by phone Monday afternoon. “Instead of having the Division II championship in the bag every year, I would prefer to play in the Open Division. Now it’s a true county championship.”
Regardless of whether the Islanders were in Division I or II, Battle annually scheduled the best teams in the county. The change in playoff structure won’t impact the Islanders 2013 regular season schedule as it was finalized and sent to the CIF in December.
Battle and her team are joined by Torrey Pines, La Costa Canyon, Scripps Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Westview and La Jolla in the new eight-team Open Division. Under the new setup, all eight teams will automatically advance to the Open Division playoffs.
When asked about her reaction to hearing about the new playoff structure, Battle said, “When (CHS Athletic Director) Robin Nixon told me, it was bittersweet. That’s what we have been pushing for this whole time, but now we have to make it work. It’s definitely exciting and it will make the playoffs more exciting. All eight teams in the Open Division are pretty solid and it was nice to see us ranked No. 1 for the past five years. We have the opportunity to play almost everyone we will come across in the playoffs, which is good. Coronado is coming back full force and we have improved a ton since last year. We’re going to have a good, strong season. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Islander Head Baseball Coach Sam Ceci and his club will compete in Division II this spring. Ceci lead Coronado to the Division III runner-up slot in 2005 and won Division IV titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. “It’s like déjà vu for us,” Ceci said. “It puts us back to where we were six years ago in Division III, but essentially with a lot of the same teams. We’ll have to work real hard this year to make the playoffs. There are 18 teams in the division and 12 make the playoffs. Now we’re going to be up to our eyeballs and it will be very competitive. I think we will have a pretty good season, league realignment wise. We’ll have a good chance to get in and I’ll be happy with a seed in the No. 10 to 12 range instead of expecting to be seeded No. 1 through 4.”
Not relating to the CIF Divisional Playoff change, Coronado moves to the Central League from the Western League this spring. The newly realigned five team circuit will include Coronado, Christian, Clairemont, Serra and Lincoln.
Ceci added some thoughts regarding the new playoff system. “I like it. It will be tough to get in and once you are in, there will be no easy games at all. It’s going to be nasty. I would have loved to have had this system in last year, if we could have had no injuries to our pitching staff. I think it will make for more interest and new champions. Next year will be even more interesting because Cathedral Catholic and El Capitan aren’t in the Open Division this year because you couldn’t jump more than two divisions. I just like the fact that you are taking programs based on performance. In the new Division II, the only school with a smaller enrollment than us is La Jolla Country Day. We’re still showing pretty well. We are 69th or 70th enrollment wise, but we are ranked 36th, which is one of the bigger spreads in the entire county.”
The ranking system is weighted to results from more recent years in the five-year span. Results from 2012 are weighted at 35 percent of the total, 2011 is at 30 percent, 2010 is 20 percent, 2009 is 10 percent and 2008 accounts for five percent of the total.
Rankings for other Islander sports approved in the new playoff system include football which will be in Division III. There will be 17 football teams in the division, with 12 advancing to the playoffs. Girls volleyball will compete in Division II and be one of 20 teams in that grouping. A total of 16 teams will qualify for the girls volleyball playoffs.