“Playoffs? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!” Former NFL Head Coach Jim Mora, Sr. fashioned that quote several years ago at a post-game press conference in response to a question about the possibility of post-season play after his Indianapolis Colts team had lost that day. The point he was trying to make was whether his team deserved go to the playoffs after a season where their performance and their record were not too impressive. Now that our Winter Playoffs have concluded, I believe this is a good time to examine that concept as it relates to the current situation with our playoffs in the CIF Southern Section and evaluate what we are doing in this regard. Specifically, I wish to address CIF Southern Section Blue Book Rule 3214.1.
CIF Southern Section Blue Book Rule 3214.1 was adopted by the CIF Southern Section Council a few years ago. This bylaw allows for schools who did not earn a guaranteed entry from their league into the
playoffs, in every sport but Football, Basketball and Wrestling, to qualify for the playoffs as an at-large team, as long as their school finished in the next place beyond that league’s guaranteed number of entries and their school’s overall season record of all games played was .500 or better. This rule has resulted in a large increase in the number of playoff teams in virtually all of our sports, which means much bigger brackets and more wild-card contests. In this difficult economic climate, that begs
the question as to the costs involved with these additional games. We are well aware of the financial issues facing our member school’s athletic programs, yet here is an example where our schools are paying significant transportation costs, official’s fees, sometimes paying a facilities fee, adding supervision hours for their employees, which can result in overtime pay, needing to purchase additional equipment like baseballs and softballs, etc., for wild-card games in sports that do not generate any revenue to try and help defray those costs. In a section as large as ours, with some of the travel distances involved, these additional costs can run into several hundreds of dollars per game. Also, the competitive nature of many of these games leaves much to be desired. In many, many cases, these contests are not matching teams who should be matched up and what results from that situation are non-competitive games with lopsided scores making it a difficult situation for both schools involved. I am including an examination of data from the past four years in the sports of Baseball, Softball, Boys/Girls Soccer and Boys/Girls Water Polo which indicate the win-loss records of at-large teams who qualified for the playoffs through Rule 3214.1 who played in First Round contests in those sports during this period. I believe you will see that these numbers are very compelling.
I truly believe in the value of the high school athletic experience and participating in our playoffs is certainly a part of that. However, I wonder what kind of experience it is for student-athletes, coaches, administrators, parents and fans when we look at the brackets after First Round games and see baseball and softball teams losing by 15-20 runs, soccer teams losing by 5-10 goals and water polo teams losing by 10-15 goals after taking long trips to those games and paying significant costs to do so. Is that really the lasting memory we wish to take away from the end of our seasons?
At a time when standards are being raised every year, in relation to high school test scores and college admissions, CIF Southern Section Rule 3214.1 does the opposite, as it lowers the standards for participation in our playoffs. I wonder what message that is sending to all involved.
In the time ahead, I ask that you initiate a discussion with your leagues and schools in your area to gauge where they are on this issue. I plan to do the same with our Executive Committee at our upcoming meeting on April 24.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to the discussion to come.