The Santa Monica High School football team is trying not to focus on the new playoff system in the CIF Southern Section.
Hoping to bounce back from last week’s 29-0 loss to Segerstrom in their season opener, the Vikings are putting more emphasis on what they can do to secure their first victory of second-year coach Ramsey Lambert’s tenure.
Indeed, as they prepare to face Cypress on the road Friday night in a nonconference game, Lambert said, they can’t afford to worry about what a tweaked postseason structure might mean a few months from now.
“We need to be competitive on a week-to-week basis,” Lambert said. “We’ve got to handle what we do on our end and let the other stuff take care of itself.”
The “other stuff” is the Southern Section’s recently launched playoff model, which aims to improve competitive equity in the postseason by placing teams in divisions based on factors other than school size. The changes will affect football and several other fall sports, including boys water polo, girls volleyball and girls tennis.
Regular-season results, schedule strength and Southern Section playoff performance from the previous two years of competition will be factored into a formula to create power rankings, which will be used to develop playoff divisions. Data from 2014 and 2015 will impact this year’s rankings, for example, and figures from last year and this season will be considered for next year’s rankings.
“The tradition in many places was that enrollment-based championships were the proper method,” section commissioner Rob Wigod said in a recent interview with the Daily Press. “What we found, and anyone who watches realizes, is that enrollment size is not the biggest factor of success. The issue for us is, it doesn’t matter if you’re big, small or medium; public, private or charter. The number-one issue is, ‘How good are you?’ You should play [teams] comparable to your ability level. I hope that we find we’re creating opportunities for competitive playoffs.”
Section officials were asked to give a presentation about the new model to other states’ high school sports governing bodies at a national meeting this past summer.
“We were honored by that,” Wigod said. “They believed we’re doing something we should share.”
One potential concern for schools in the section is an increase in travel distances for playoff games. But Wigod noted that the brackets will change annually, meaning a given school’s proximity to its opponents could be reduced from one year to the next.
Lambert said the new system could potentially reduce the importance of league games, but he’s curious to see how the formula plays out in the future.
“For us, it makes sense,” he said. “I think it’s best for the kids. In trying to salvage some of the smaller programs and smaller schools, it’ll help them a little bit down the line with being able to get into the playoffs.”
The new postseason model will also apply to boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer and girls water polo in the winter as well as baseball, softball, boys volleyball and boys tennis in the spring.
Lambert, for one, said he hasn’t brought up the changes with his players at all.
“We have a lot of our own questions to answer,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on what we can control.”