High School Sports

CIF changes the game plan: PAC 7 football moved to Western Division

A CIF-Southern Section proposal that would lead to fewer PAC 7 football teams qualifying for the divisional playoffs all but became official Wednesday when the section announced the results of its Tuesday appeals hearing.

Among other changes, the proposal, which was announced in mid-March, moves the PAC 7 from the five-league Northern Division into a new-look, six-league Western Division. In the Northern Division, the PAC 7 had been guaranteed three automatic postseason berths, and would’ve received four this upcoming season if not for the proposal.

Because the pending Western Division will have one more league feeding into its 16-team playoff bracket, however, each of the six leagues will be guaranteed only two automatic bids, with four at-large berths to be handed out throughout the division.

Although the PAC 7 chose not to appeal the proposal, the Pacific View and San Gabriel Valley leagues, which would also be in the Western Division, were scheduled to make their appeals Tuesday. Both, however, pulled their appeals prior to the hearing.

Thom Simmons, director of communications for the section, said Wednesday he was unsure why those leagues backed off.

The final approval of the proposals — which would be in effect through the 2012 season — will be determined at a section council meeting in Long Beach on April 29. But because none of the proposed Western Division’s leagues ended up appealing, the changes are essentially a done deal as far as the PAC 7 is concerned.

“We’ve just got to plan on not being one of those teams that leaves their playoff position up to chance (in applying for one of the at-large bids),” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said.

Another concern of many coaches is how the enhanced premium on at-large berths may affect their nonleague scheduling efforts, as schools may find themselves pushed into watering down their strength of nonleague opponents in order to produce more attractive overall records.

“That’s a valid concern,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “Let’s face it — it’s going to be hard to keep out a team that has an outstanding (overall) record. It’s something we all have to look at with our (nonleague) scheduling.”

The neighboring Los Padres League will be unaffected by the proposals. A number of factors went into the realignment, including geography and enrollment, but the most important criteria, Simmons said, was improving competitive equity.

In reviewing recent years’ playoffs, Simmons said, leagues’ third- and fourth-place entries hardly ever advanced more than a round.

From the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo combined to win 11 divisional championships. After the four moved up in divisions, however, such dominance was hard to come by, with the last title being claimed by San Luis Obispo in 2001.

One of the primary factors in the dry spell was the greater toughness of the Northern Division, which in recent years included schools known to pull talent from multiple locales — most notably St. Bonaventure of Ventura. In February, for instance, St. Bonaventure forfeited all of its wins from this past season in light of a missing document for an out-of-state transfer student.

Under the proposal, the Seraphs — who ended Paso Robles’ playoff runs in 2008 and 2006, San Luis Obispo’s in 2007 and 2004, and Arroyo Grande’s in 2002 — would stay in the Northern Division.

For next year, their Marmonte League has been bumped up to a 10-team cluster that will also include fellow juggernaut Oaks Christian of Thousand Oaks.

Thus, the PAC 7 moving away from such powerhouses has led to rumblings that the teams that do make the playoffs may face a more level playing field once they get there.

“It’s unfortunate we’re only going to be able to get two guaranteed playoff spots,” Goossen said. “That being said, I believe we’re in a (division) where we’ll have a little bit more competitive balance.”

That’s partially why the PAC 7 didn’t appeal, league secretary and Righetti athletic director Eric Albright said.

“There are always pluses and minuses to everything,” Albright said. “We feel like in this case, our league champion and our second-place team would have a chance to go fairly deep in the playoffs.”