The North Coast Section is moving to a competitive-based model for its playoffs starting next school year.
The changes became official Friday when the section’s Board of Managers approved the proposal by a 30-13 vote.
Given that Mike Lefkow, Joseph Dycus and myself have been critical of the section’s previous format in football, underscoring the imbalance of its brackets and the dislike of putting teams in divisions before the season with no room to wiggle, we convened on Tuesday for an emergency chat on video.
For background, here is the gist of the football changes:
The new model starts with seven base divisions determined by enrollment. Teams will be seeded using MaxPreps’ computer-generated rankings. The top eight qualifying teams, no matter if they’re Division VII or Division I, will be in the Open/Division I bracket.
The rest will mostly follow in order of ranking, just as many sections and the state CIF have been doing to seed playoffs. The NCS will continue to have a seeding committee, which can move teams around if there are head-to-head results and strength-of-schedule factors to consider.
The NCS will remove the its pre-determined divisions, which led to some deserving teams from missing the playoffs last season. But in the new format, teams are not allowed to move up or down more than two divisions from their home base unless they are being placed in Open/Division I.
So, Lefkow, what do you think of the changes?
“I like what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s not perfect. But it’s a lot better than it has been. I looked at some of the mock brackets that we ran. You look at Division I, if it were an El Cerrito-San Ramon Valley first-round game or a Cal-Pitt rematch, those are some good games. You look at Division II, you would potentially have Las Lomas-Campolindo and Acalanes-Liberty, which would have been a really interesting first-round game. They have made it a lot better. Even if you drop down to the lower divisions, there are some good matchups in there. It will benefit the other sports as well.”
Dycus, is this a thumbs up or thumbs down?
“To put it simply, it’s a thumbs up,” he said. “I went back to our Monday Morning Lights column about what the data says about the CCS and NCS playoffs. In the NCS, 31 of the 48 games (65%) were decided by 20 points at least. Looking at this new format, I don’t think we’re going to be as many blowouts. There is no way. That’s only a good thing.”
Sabedra: “It’s a good thing. I’ll play Devil’s Advocate here. I personally like the new format. I pushed for it. I thought that the NCS’s previous format had too many embarrassing mismatches that you shouldn’t see in a section playoff. But I’ll play Devil’s Advocate here. We’ve seen some voices on Twitter or X. It is going to affect some teams. There are some teams that traditionally do well in some of these other divisions that now are going to have to contend with the likes of De La Salle.
“There are only two (regional) spots available in that Open/Division I bracket, which is an eight-team bracket. The NCS went to that format that allows a team to make it to a regional without having to beat De La Salle, which hasn’t lost to an NCS team since 1991. I think you guys have heard that before. If you look at that Open/Division I (mock) bracket, De La Salle made it last year as the Open champion and Pittsburg made it as the Division I champion. But you also have Marin Catholic in there, which was the D3 champion in the NCS last season and you have El Cerrito, which was the D2 champion. I am not a math whiz, but I know that four teams are not going to be able to go out of that Open/Division I bracket. Only two. So a lot of people are like, ‘Well, this is going to impact the NCS moving forward into the regionals where you’re not going to be putting your strongest teams in there. They’re going to all be moved up into the Open/Division bracket.’”
Lefkow, how do you think the changes are going to affect NorCal bids? Is the NCS going to be sending teams that don’t belong?
“Well, that’s a possibility,” he said. “I think it’s more important to do it this way and have good section playoffs than worry about which teams might move forward into NorCal and then how they would fare in NorCal. I like this format. Again, like you said, it’s not perfect.”
Dycus: “There is the argument of that we’ve have heard is if you are a really good Division VI or Division VII team and the computer says you’re one of the eight best teams in NCS, are you punishing that Division VII team that realistically can’t compete.”
Sabedra: “We don’t know if they realistically can or cannot. We assume they cannot. Everybody says the depth level or whatever. But if you have 40 good football players at a school with 200 students, you’re still going to be really good.”
Lefkow: “I think Joseph raises a good point. Looking at these mock divisions, I don’t know for sure what the enrollment is at San Marin High School. I would be a little reluctant to see San Marin in Division I, just as I kind of spoke out about Campolindo being in Division I (last year). You’re kind of punishing a great coach for being successful. That’s the only problem I have with it.”
Sabedra: “Tip of the cap to the NCS. I think this was long overdue and I am looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds. And as commissioner Pat Cruickshank told me on Friday, if tweaks need to be made moving forward, tweaks will be made.”
Dycus: “I have been here for two years. We’ve talked about it both years. I didn’t really think that anything would change in the NCS. So I pretty surprised when I heard. But let’s go to a different sport here. You mentioned in your (news) story that this doesn’t just affect football. Last year in girls basketball, Piedmont went 27-1 and they were down in Division IV playing an entire NCS playoff beating teams by 40 points. If this system had been in place before, Piedmont would have been in NCS Open.”
Lefkow: “Big tip of the cap to Pat Cruickshank and the NCS Board. I think that they are really trying to set up a format that will benefit everyone and that’s important. His comment that they’ll make more tweaks if they have to, I think they are listening to the coaches and athletic directors at different high schools and I think they want to improve things. This is a big step in the right direction.”