It’s good to know California’s high school athletes are being properly prepared for college. At least, they’ll be prepared for college football’s broken, convoluted system of determining a league champion, the Bowl Championship Series (more commonly known as the BCS).
Many of our state’s most promising young athletes will converge on the Home Depot Center in Carson this Friday and Saturday for the California State Football Championship games (proudly representing Los Angeles will be undefeated Crenshaw – Go Cougars!).
But for 80 years, California didn’t even crown a state champion in high school football. It wasn’t until 2006 that the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the state’s high school sports governing body, created a small “bowl” system in which some of the best teams play each other for championships in four divisions (determined by school enrollment). And this year is the second the top two teams from all divisions will play each other in an “Open Division” bowl to determine who’s the greatest in the Golden State.
However, with such a limited numbers of bowls, not even all Section champions get to play in these big games. Unlike other large states like Texas or Florida, or, well, any other state in the union besides New Jersey, there is no state playoff in California. And, just like in big-time college football, not everybody’s too happy with that.
Did I mention that the bowls only match up a team from the Northern half of the state with one from the South? Even if the two best teams were both from SoCal, they couldn’t play each other for the title. This just adds to the controversy, as Ben Bolch pointed out in the LA Times Tuesday:
Yet, none of those teams will play one another under the format that matches section champions from Southern California and Northern California. A proposal to add a regional playoff round was shot down last year by the California Interscholastic Federation’s state federated council.
“Because of the way we’re structured, the size of our state, you can’t have a true champion unless you legitimately start playing everybody off, and we’re just too large to do that,” Marie Ishida, CIF executive director, said Monday at the Home Depot Center in Carson. “This is our next-best thing, and so far it’s worked for us.”
Exclusive invitations to the bowl games are handed out by the Section Commissioners, based on criteria including record, head-to-head competition and common opponents. And then there’s the more subjective qualities – “strength of schedule” (nobody measures that the same way) and the greatest phrase I have ever read in a football championship handbook, “Suitability to represent the State in a Bowl Championship with regards to Pursuing Victory with Honor and acceptable standards of sportsmanship.”
Whatever that means, it’s basically the high-school equivalent of the open-to-interpretation merits discussed in all the top-secret meetings that decide who goes to what college bowl each year. These commonly include your team’s reputation, how much money its visiting fans will bring to the host town, how many people will watch the game on TV, decades-old conference affiliations, and how good some dude and his computer deem your team to be. In fact, those computer rankings are even more important in deciding who gets to play for the BCS National Championship (The NCAA doesn’t actually award a national championship in football. But whoever those BCS guys are, they sure do.).
High school football has even adopted other college bowl rules like barring a team’s margin of victory over another from consideration when evaluating teams, and driving fans to create intensely detailed hypothetical playoff systems. Though on their website, the CIF does try to distance itself from the chaos that is the BCS a little bit by stating, “Media input and computerized rankings will only be used as a guide in the selection process.” I guess it’s a start.
Want to go support the Cougars in the big Open Division game for all the marbles? Check out the schedule for this weekend’s match-ups below. You can also watch all the games live on TV on FSN Prime Ticket. And as an added bonus, the state cheerleading championships will be held at the tennis stadium next door on Saturday (some real-life Bring It On action)!
4:00 pm: Small Division Schools Championship – San Diego Parker vs. Modesto Christian
8:00 pm: Division I Championship – Oceanside (San Diego) vs. San Jose Bellarmine Prep
12:00 pm: Division III Championship – Gardena Serra vs. Kentfield Marin Catholic
4:00 pm: Division II Championship – Servite (Anaheim) vs. Rocklin
8:00 pm: Open Division Championship – Crenshaw (Los Angeles) vs. Concord De La Salle
Admission is $15 for adults, and $8 for kids and students.