In the world of competitive equity in which CIF-Southern Section football teams now operate, it’s no longer good enough to finish third in league – or, really, even second.
“You have to really approach the season a lot differently than you have in years past,” said Saugus coach Jason Bornn.
Before, teams could hypothetically go 0-5 in preleague play, then finish in the Foothill League’s top three spots and breathe easy. That’s no longer so, because, as Saugus nearly found out the hard way last season, finishing first, second or third place in the Foothill League tabs a team as a “guaranteed entry,” but it gives them no real guarantee.
In the CIF-Southern Section’s year-old competitive equity playoff system, teams are placed in playoff divisions individually (based on their performance over the previous two seasons) rather than by league.
The result is that a division can end up with more guaranteed entries than its 16-team playoff bracket allows.
In that case, the first-place teams gain entrance first, followed by all the second-place teams and, if there’s room, the third-place finishers.
MORE: 2016-17 Signal Sports Awards: Most Exciting Player
Saugus did in fact advance to the Division 6 playoffs a season ago after finishing third place in the Foothill League, which as a six-team league is “guaranteed” three entries. But, had D6 featured 16 first or second place teams, the Centurions would have been left out.
There was little room for error.
If multiple guaranteed entries finish, say, third in their respective leagues and are vying for the same playoff spot(s), then the CIF uses the at-large berth criteria to eliminate one or more of them from the bracket: 1) head-to-head competition of teams under consideration; 2) overall strength of league; 3) overall win-loss record; 4) strength against common opponents; 5) strength of schedule.
A team’s preleague schedule can impact all five criteria.
“Those (preleague) games matter,” Bornn said.
They also matter for teams hoping for an at-large berth. The Southern Section won’t accept any sub-.500 at-large teams to the playoffs before all .500-or-above teams have been accepted, a scenario that sunk West Ranch’s playoff dreams in Division 9 last season.
Again the margin of error was razor-thin: The Wildcats lost by two points to Simi Valley in the season opener and finished 4-6 on the year.
West Ranch, Canyon, Golden Valley and Saugus open preleague play on Aug. 25 this fall, while Hart and Valencia open a week later. Here is each team’s respective non-league slate:
@ Highland of Palmdale
Highland of Palmdale
@ Royal of Simi Valley
@ Crescenta Valley
@ Crespi of Los Angeles
@ St. Bonaventure
@ Santa Barbara
Buena of Ventura
St. Francis of La Canada Flintridge
Chaparral of Arizona
@ Newbury Park
@ Burroughs of Burbank
@ St. Genevieve of Panorama City
@ Oak Park