Equity in high school sports is a complicated issue. And the CIF Southern Section isn’t quite there yet.
There are 14 divisions in Southern Section football this year. How many small public schools made the playoffs? What makes a school like Sierra Vista, a private school with an enrollment of 1,898 be considered a Division 14 school like Riverside Prep, a public school in a small community with a student enrollment of 646?
Does that make sense?
Now look at the schools that played football in CIF Southern Section Division 10 this year. Big Bear was the second-smallest school in enrollment at 717. The smallest was Heritage Christian at 438.
Of the 23 schools in the division, 12 schools had student enrollments higher than 2,000. The third smallest? That would be Pomona High School at 1,099.
Did you know that the formula for determining which division a school plays in 11-man football does not take enrollment into consideration? It also doesn’t take into account public versus private schools. Ask any coach in any sport at a small public school and they will tell you that matters.
The formula includes regular season record, strength of schedule and performance in the CIF Southern Section playoffs over the previous two years. This formula is why, after winning the CIF title in 2017, the Bears moved from Division 12 to Division 9 in 2018.
So with that in mind you would think that Eisenhower, the 2018 Division 10 champion, would move a couple of sports to Division 8 in 2019? No. Eisenhower was Big Bear’s opponent in the first round of the Division 10 Championships last week.
The CIF calls its formula a competitive equity power ranking, but when it comes to small public schools, there is little to no equity involved.
A quick look at the schools that won CIF Southern Section 11-man football titles in 2018 shows that only three titles were won by schools with enrollments below 1,600 — Grace Brethren (371), Sierra Canyon (419) and Linfield Christian (348). All three are private schools.
Here’s another interesting tidbit. The CIF Southern Section playoff formula for 8-man football’s two divisions is solely based on school enrollment. What’s good for them I guess is not good for the rest of the section’s football programs.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s not just football that uses an equity power ranking formula. You can find it in basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball. And just forget about equity in golf. Everyone plays in the same division in the playoffs.
Small public schools are victims of the CIF Southern Section playoff system in most sports. Here’s why. Small schools can’t recruit like private schools. And small schools don’t have the (human) resources the larger public schools enjoy.
Big Bear football has been lucky in many respects the past few years with solid teams. But should Big Bear face schools like Santa Ana, Eisenhower and San Gorgonio in the playoffs? Should Sierra Vista be relegated to the lowest division in the section? Is that equity? And is it fair to the larger schools to play in lower divisions?
All this formula does is provide larger schools with more opportunities to win CIF titles while small schools are shut out over and over again.
What’s the solution? I believe enrollment should be an important part of the playoff formula. Human resources — the number of students available to play sports — are a key element to a team’s success. The more students there are, the more athletes are available.
Perhaps it’s also time to consider roster limits. If utilized properly roster limits for each division could result in placing larger schools against larger schools, and smaller schools against smaller schools. If a school can field an 85-member roster, then that school should play in a higher division.
Finally, it’s long past time to create a private school section or division. Or create a small public school division. One coach I know has even suggested the creation of an Inland Empire section separate from the Southern Section would go a long way to address the inequity.
If the CIF Southern Section is serious about equity, then it needs to address the monster it created — competitive equity power ranking — that continues to haunt its small public school members. Until the CIF addresses the concerns of its small school members, equity is nothing but a pipe dream. It’s just another way for the big schools to take all the hardware while the small schools are left wondering why they are ignored.