Open Division might be coming next season so here’s a look ahead if it happens and what teams could be in it.
At her last press conference during the CIF basketball championships, retiring executive director Marie Ishida said it was “a toss-up” whether the proposal to add an open division to the basketball championship event would pass when the CIF Federated Council votes on it in May.
To the uninitiated, a preferred total of eight teams in Northern California and eight teams in Southern California would be chosen for the open division after all of the section playoffs are complete. These teams would then compete for north and south open division titles and would then play each other for the open division state crown.
All five of the current CIF divisional titles would remain, but obviously would not include any of the open division teams and theoretically would give more schools – some that might even be as low as quarterfinal finishers in some sections – a better opportunity to win a state title.
The plus of having an open division is that there would be no longer any debate about which team is truly the best in the state at the end of the season. On the girls side this year, for example, Mater Dei of Santa Ana and La Jolla Country Day would have both been in the open division and possibly would have played each other.
On the negative, some see the CIF as unilaterally putting schools into the open division that may not want to be in the open division, especially if it’s a school that has never won a CIF state title before and probably wouldn’t if it had to be in the open division.
We thought it would be helpful to look ahead to the open divisions in the north and south for next season -- if the proposal passes and that’s a big if -- and see which schools are probably in line to be in them. It’s interesting to note that in the four divisions it’s easy to speculate about the first five or schools in each bracket, but after that it’s much more of a guessing game.
Any team getting bumped out in a early-round upset in the section playoffs also, of course, would be done for the season just like it is now.
Based on returning players and how the teams finished up this season, we see Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Long Beach Poly, Loyola of Los Angeles, Etiwanda and Taft of Woodland Hills as the teams to beat.
San Diego Lincoln should have some very good players back and has won a D2 state title before so an open bid might be likely for the Hornets, too. Also, with Isaac Hamilton coming back, watch out for St. John Bosco of Bellflower. Another team could come from the loaded CIFSS Division IV-AA bracket (like Price or Bishop Montgomery or La Verne Lutheran) and it wouldn’t even surprise us if D5 champion Village Christian, with the players it will have back, to get a look.
The more obvious choices for this bracket appear to be Salesian of Richmond (with Jabari Bird as a senior), Archbishop Mitty (with Aaron Gordon as a senior), Sheldon of Sacramento (many top players will be returning) and De La Salle of Concord (perennial power and always strong). Deer Valley of Antioch is going to be outstanding next season while D2 North finalist Newark Memorial has a few key players returning as well.
After that, it’s hard to tell. From a recent success standpoint, both Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland clearly would be in the mix. Both of those teams, though, have some standout seniors to replace.
Assuming that the messy situation that ended the season on such a sour note at Windward of Los Angeles is cleared up, we see the Wildcats probably joining Mater Dei, La Jolla Country Day, Long Beach Poly and Brea Olinda in the open division. Mater Dei will have four starters graduating, but anyone counting out Kevin Kiernan to come up with an elite-level team would be mistaken.
It’s not as clear-cut to choose the next three teams that might be in the bracket. Santiago of Corona should return big-time junior Chrishae Rowe and others, but struggled against strong teams outside of the Inland Empire. J.W. North of Riverside had a young team that made the D2 state final, Hanford has been a powerhouse for years in the Central Section and will have Bayli McClard back, and there’s others like Lynwood (coach Ellis Barfield is one of the best) or Edison of Huntington Beach (with healthy Karly and Katie Lou Samuelson sisters).
Next year’s teams at Bishop O’Dowd, St. Mary’s of Stockton and Archbishop Mitty figure to not only be among the best in the state but all three could be among the top 20 in the nation. Berkeley, with its tradition and returning players, is right behind, while you’d have to think that Carondelet of Concord is a prime open division team as well.
Again, though, as in the other SoCal and NorCal open divisions, it’s choosing the teams to fill out an eight-team bracket where problems arise. Kennedy of Sacramento is a great example. The Cougars certainly could be one of the eight best teams in the north next season with a solid cast back off this year’s section title-winning and NorCal finalist team. But they aren’t at the level of O’Dowd, St. Mary’s or Mitty, they’re just not and is it fair to stick them into the open division when the alternative perhaps should be to give them a shot to win a D1 state crown first?
Other schools from the north that should be strong next season and might gain the eye of the CIF for the open division include Salesian of Richmond, St. Mary’s of Berkeley, Sacramento and even D5 champ Brookside Christian of Stockton (which had no juniors or seniors score points in its state final).
Private schools domination
One stat that might help the open division proposal pass is that all 10 CIF state champions this season (five boys, five girls) were from private schools. This also marked the second straight year in which the privates won all 10 titles.
With an open division, you would have to assume that public schools would then have a much better chance to win state titles, particularly in Division I.
The last public school to win a girls state title was Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills in Division I in 2010. The Trojans were the only public school to win a girls title that season. For the boys, both Westchester of Los Angeles and San Diego Lincoln were two public schools that won championships in 2010.
Open Division may be needed to boost interest
Without the open division and things staying the way they are, it’s difficult to see a bright future for the CIF basketball championships.
This year’s attendance was below average and had to be disappointing. This was partly due to a Friday lineup in which there were two schools (Mitty, Salesian) with both boys and girls teams playing and also because there were two schools playing from San Diego (La Jolla Country Day, La Costa Canyon).
Still, it’s an event that needs a jolt of energy and innovative thinking, especially since the CIF has announced that Sacramento’s Power Balance Pavilion will be the site of the state finals for the next three years (a new arena in Sacramento is scheduled to be open after that). Sacramento fans will come out to watch an individual talent like Jason Kidd and will come out to watch local teams, but there tends to be more teams from the Bay Area that go to the state finals.
The open division could accomplish those goals. If there can be doubleheaders for the north and south semifinals, or perhaps even bringing all eight teams in for one week of wall-to-wall games (like some states do), then who knows how the public might react. The CIF’s TV partners would probably love a schedule like that, too.
To us, this is similar to getting the football bowl games going. Yes, there are problems, but if the open division in basketball can just get started, some of those problems can perhaps get fixed later.
Apologies to Coach Scheppler
In our writeup of the D1 girls final, we mentioned that Mater Dei’s Kevin Kiernan set a new state record with his sixth championship. One of the coaches who was not mentioned as one of those who has five is Doc Scheppler from Pinewood of Los Altos Hills. He won his fifth in the 2011 Division V contest.
In addition to the Pinewood girls, Scheppler is a well-known shooting coach in the Bay Area. One player he has helped is Palo Alto’s Jeremy Lin. The last time Mater Dei lost in a CIF state final, Jeremy Lin was on the winning team.
Corrections or comments? Email Mark.Tennis@espn.com.