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Point system leads to controversial selection for California high school football playoffs

The morning after Cathedral City (Calif.) was surprisingly left out of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, coaches were still talking about it, debating whether or not it was fair for the Lions, at 8-2, to be sitting home.

Coaches from each of the 16 playoff teams in the Central Division met a Kaiser High School in Fontana Sunday morning as the pairings were first unveiled. But the hot topic of the event was Cathedral City.

“A lot of coaches from outside the valley were even talking about,” Palm Springs head coach Dan Murphy said. “They couldn’t believe it, either.”

Despite eight wins, the Lions finished fourth in what was a very competitive DVL this season. Among the top four, each team had at least one league loss, yet all four had a winning record in the league.

Still, a CIF-SS selection committee used a point system to determine that Arlington (3-6) was more deserving of the final playoff spot.

What did the Lions in is that the CIF rulebook essentially makes strength of schedule more important than almost anything else. It’s more important than the league a team plays in (1 point), its overall record (1 point) and how it fares against common opponents (1 point) when comparing two teams. CIF gives two points for strength of schedule. That’s where the Lions fell short of Arlington.

But shouldn’t a team’s resume be more than just who you played? Shouldn’t it be about who you’ve beaten? Cathedral City beat La Quinta, the No. 1 seed from the DVL and a Top 10 team in the Central Division poll. Arlington’s best win was against Valley View, a team not even in the playoffs. The Lions beat three playoff teams. Arlington beat none.

“We were there joking with each other that we’re going to schedule Mission Viejo and St. John Bosco in our non-league schedule if that is what’s important,” La Quinta head coach Dan Armstrong said.

Turns out that’s exactly the message CIF is sending teams.

In reality, Cathedral City could have scheduled four of the toughest schools in Southern California in its non-league schedule, gotten crushed, and that would have actually gotten the Lions in the playoffs. That would have been more impressive than beating up on five lesser opponents, outscoring them 254-47.

Getting blown out by four powerhouse teams would have given the Lions a better strength of schedule than Arlington, yet still would have given them four wins and a signature win over La Quinta. That would have been more impressive to the CIF-SS selection committee than all those impressive wins to seemingly lesser opponents.

“Some of those teams beat us last year,” Cathedral City head coach Richard Lee said “So it’s not like we were scheduling games that we knew we would easily win.”

Up until last year, a team could not have a losing record and still be considered for an at-league playoff berth in the CIF playoffs. With Arlington’s inclusion over Cathedral City, coaches in and out of the valley now wonder aloud if changing that was a good idea.

“Most everybody agreed that they need to tweak the system a little,” Palm Desert head coach Pat Blackburn said of Sunday’s meeting. “I thought having a .500 record to be considered was a good deal. I don’t know why they did away with that. I’m still speechless about it, to be honest.”

From here, the next step is unclear. At least one DVL coach said he plans to write a letter to the CIF after the season about the incident. Another said this will motivate his team to go out during the postseason and prove that DVL teams need to be taken more seriously.

One thing is for sure: I’d hate to be Cathedral City’s opponent to open next season.

Andrew L. John also writes for MyDesert.com.



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