High schools: NCS approves major playoff changes in all sports

The North Coast Section football playoffs will have a different look next season.

Gone are the days of smaller schools such as Marin Catholic outclassing inferior opponents 69-0 or overmatched larger schools such as James Logan losing badly to De La Salle three years years in a row.

Hello, competitive equity.

The most popular or unpopular term in the modern era of California high school sports, depending on where you stand, is coming to the NCS.

Not just in football but in all team sports.

The section’s Board of Managers passed the proposal by a 30-13 vote on Friday.

“I think it will be good, and if it’s not, we’ll find where the tweaks need to be made and we’ll tweak it and we’ll make it better,” NCS commissioner Pat Cruickshank told the Bay Area News Group. “We’re going to make this work for our kids. We want those more competitive games.

“It’s not about championship equity. It’s about competitive equity and being able to go a game in our playoffs and be competitive in that game.”

If the new format had been in place last school year, Piedmont’s top-ranked girls basketball team would have been among the section’s six Open Division teams rather than plowing through Division IV.

The Highlanders won their three section playoff games by an average of 38.7 points.

Hardly barnburners.

The NCS’s format for football will be similar to the neighboring Central Coast Section, which has gone with competitive-based playoffs for a couple of years.

But they’re not identical.

The NCS model for football starts with seven base divisions determined by enrollment. The base for the top bracket is schools with an enrollment of 2,300-plus.

The home base for powerhouse De La Salle, with an enrollment of 2,046, is Division II.

For the sake of calmness, let’s push pause for a second. Before you choke on your gum, De La Salle will not be in D-II.

Per the section’s proposal, teams will be seeded using MaxPreps’ (computer-generated) rankings. The top eight qualifying teams, no matter if they’re Division VII or Division I, will be in the Open/Division I playoffs.

The rest will mostly follow in order of ranking, just as many sections and the state CIF has been doing to seed playoffs.

The NCS will continue to have a seeding committee, which will have the green light to move teams around if there are head-to-head results and strength-of-schedule elements to consider.

The new format will remove the section’s pre-determined divisions, which led to some deserving teams (Liberty and Antioch among them) from missing the football playoffs last season.

“It’s different because it’s more real-time now,” Cruickshank said. “We’re going to use real-time data as opposed to divisions that were based on (results from) the last two years or three years.”

The base divisions in the new format will prevent the largest schools (James Logan or Amador Valley, for instance) from dropping to Division VI or VII or the smallest schools jumping from Division VII to Division II.

Except for the Open/Division I bracket, teams are not allowed to move up or down more than two divisions from their home base.

How would the playoffs have looked last season with the changes?

Well, per the section office, here are the mock brackets:

Open/Division I

Mock bracket: De La Salle, San Ramon Valley, Pittsburg, San Marin, Marin Catholic, California, El Cerrito, Amador Valley

Official bracket: De La Salle, San Ramon Valley, Pittsburg, Clayton Valley Charter, California, Amador Valley, Campolindo, James Logan

Division II

Mock bracket: Clayton Valley Charter, Windsor, Campolindo, Liberty, Acalanes, Las Lomas, Casa Grande, Tamalpais

Official bracket: El Cerrito, Windsor, Granada, Redwood, Heritage, Rancho Cotate, Vintage, Berkeley

Division III

Mock bracket: Antioch, James Logan, Granada, Rancho Cotate, Vintage, Redwood, Berkeley, Heritage

Official bracket: Marin Catholic, Las Lomas, Cardinal Newman, Casa Grande, Tamalpais, American Canyon, Ukiah, Bishop O’Dowd

Division IV

Mock bracket: American Canyon, Cardinal Newman, Bishop O’Dowd, Ukiah, Miramonte, Clear Lake, Deer Valley, Livermore

Official bracket: San Marin, Acalanes, Vallejo, Maria Carrillo, Petaluma, Del Norte, Mt. Diablo, Kennedy-Fremont

Division V

Mock bracket: Petaluma, Moreau Catholic, Analy, St. Vincent de Paul, Salesian, St. Bernard’s, Hayward, Maria Carrillo

Official bracket: Miramonte, St. Bernard’s, Analy, Alhambra, Piedmont, Justin-Siena, Terra Linda, San Rafael

Division VI

Mock bracket: Piner, terra Linda, Kennedy-Fremont, Fortuna, Middletown, Vallejo, St. Mary’s-Berkeley, San rafael

Official bracket: St. Vincent de Paul, Moreau Catholic, Salesian, Fortuna, Middletown, St. Mary’s-Berkeley, Arcata, Kennedy-Richmond

Division VII

Mock bracket: Willits, Kelseyville, Alhambra, Del Norte, St. Helena, Justin-Siena, Arcata, Piedmont

Official bracket: Clear Lake, Willits, Kelseyville, St. Helena, Ferndale, St. Patrick-St. Vincent, Berean Christian

Of the eight teams in the Open/Division I mock bracket, four (DLS, Pittsburg, Marin Catholic and El Cerrito) won section championships last season and moved on to the regionals.

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That won’t be possible under the new format because only two teams in the top bracket (Open and Division I champions) advance beyond the section playoffs.

“I’m all for excitement, I’m all for playing really challenging games and the best teams playing each other so you know who the best is,” DLS coach Justin Alumbaugh said. “I’m all for that. Now, I coach at De La Salle, but I also know other places. I could understand if we were D5 or D6 and got bumped up, I could understand being apprehensive about that.”

Campolindo coach Kevin Macy, a longtime critic of competitive-based playoffs, said Friday, “In general, I don’t think they can ever get anything exactly right that can just nibble around the edges. But for us personally, we have no business playing at the D1 level. We just don’t have the bodies and inventory for that. The fact that we’re capped off and we can’t go up more than two levels, that fits us.

“But in the bigger picture, I still think you’re always going to punish a small school that has an outstanding year and you’re going to push them up to a level that everything will be taken away from them.”

In the new format, Campo (enrollment 1,334) will be in Division IV as a base, meaning the Moraga school can go no higher than Division II or no lower than Division VI unless it is placed in Open/Division I.

The NCS’s entire proposal can be found here under Attachment L.

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