City Basketball on a New Highway to Success

“Competitive Equity” is the buzz phrase Los Angeles City Section basketball fans are going to be hearing all season. And if the section has its way, it will speak to more of its sports by next year.

But basketball appears set to have its full indoctrination now.

City Section is changing how it will place its boys’ and girls’ teams in their respective divisions. Instead of going primarily by student enrollment and a four-year evaluation of previous playoff performance, now “competitive equity” will determine who plays where. Both boys’ and girls’ teams will be ranked 1 though 90: 1 through 24 will comprise Division I, 25 though 46 are Division II, 47 though 68 are in Division III, and so on.

The rankings would be provided by maxpreps.com, which ranks high school sports teams in every state. And — for basketball — the rankings would be determined from a team’s playoff performance over a three-year span. (Full disclosure: maxpreps.com is a City Section sponsor.) And the placement of teams could change yearly.

“There is a major push by the state CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) to go in that direction,” said Dick Dornan, basketball sports coordinator for the L.A. City Section.

There are a couple of other things at work here. Teams that have dominated lower divisions the way LACES and View Park of Los Angeles have done in Division IV, are no longer protected by their amount of student enrollment. If they are ranked high enough to warrant a higher division, that’s where they are placed.

That means 23 boys’ teams and 22 girls’ teams from the 2014-15 season are now part of the mix for Divisions I through IV this season, instead of just staying in Divisions IV and V. However, Division V would remain protected for schools with enrollments of 600 or below.

What City officials are hoping to achieve, Dornan said, is to provide as level a playoff field as possible for each division. If teams are ranked correctly, one mega-talented team in a lower division wouldn’t constantly dominate teams of lesser ability. Instead, in theory, more playoff teams in each division would have a reasonable shot of winning a title because there should not be so great a disparity in the level of talent.

“Competitive Equity.”

And there is also a shift in how the eight Open Division playoff teams are selected. Before, six Division I teams were automatically given berths; in fact there were seven Division I teams and one Division II team. But now the best eight teams regardless of their division would compete in the Open Division.

Here is how things would potentially shake down for the top three divisions of boys’ and girls’ in the 2015-16 season:

BOYS

There are 24 teams in Division I, and 10 will come out of the Valley. Sylmar is the defending Division I champion, defeating Granada Hills in last year’s title game. Both teams may have benefited from other powerhouse teams like the Los Angeles schools Westchester and Fairfax playing in the Open Division, but nonetheless they were the ones playing for the championship.

Some of the new faces in Division I include Poly, Verdugo Hills, Chatsworth and Grant.

Division II has 22 teams overall but only four are from the Valley — Kennedy, North Hollywood, Reseda and Arleta.

The number of teams in Division III jumps back up to seven with San Fernando, Sherman Oaks CES, Canoga Park, Van Nuys, Monroe, Chavez and Panorama stacked amongst the collective 22 in the division as a whole.

GIRLS

El Camino Real and Granada Hills will be joined by Poly, San Fernando, Birmingham, Monroe, Kennedy and Reseda in Division I.

Nine Valley teams crowd into Division II, with Sylmar, Taft, Arleta and Chatsworth alongside Cleveland, Grant, Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks CES. In contrast, Panorama, Verdugo Hills and Northridge Academy are the lone locals in Division III.

An interesting note: Canoga Park was moved all the way down to Division IV, which also houses Chavez.

Another benefit for City teams in this format would be the state basketball playoffs.

All eight teams selected for the Open Division receive an automatic berth in the state playoffs, as does each division champion. That could guarantee the City Section up to 13 state playoff places. And should City Section receive at-large state playoff bids, they could get in two more teams. Those berths would be determined by the City Section from the runner-ups in Divisions I through IV.

The great “unsaid” in the room is this: basketball might be the best sport for City schools to compete evenly with Southern Section schools for titles, at least in its top two Divisions. City teams in Divisions III, IV and V — particularly in girls’ basketball — still lag behind their Southern Section brethren in levels of talent. This is no guarantee they can catch up.

All of this potential 2015-16 shuffling is dependent on a proposal before the CIF State Federated Council, which meets Friday, Oct. 9, in Ontario, CA. If passed, this new criteria goes into effect immediately.  And this criteria would apply to the sports baseball, football, softball, soccer and boys’ and girls’ volleyball beginning in the 2016-17 athletic season.

The City Section has already filed its support of the proposal. If it fails, City Section officials will be scrambling to come up with a Plan B before the season starts. But one would think that City officials are confident the statewide support for the proposal is in place.

 All basketball divisions will be finalized on Nov. 3 after the Basketball Advisory Committee reviews all appeals. First official practices begin on Nov. 9, and first officials games begin on Nov. 20.

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