Clovis News: Sports

Central Section playoffs to change

A landmark decision in Central Section sports was made in a landslide manner Wednesday morning in Porterville, where the region's board of managers approved a realignment proposal that will change the landscape of high school playoff competition.

The move, set for two years beginning in the fall, shapes playoff divisions by individual sport and competitive history -- as opposed to athletic department and enrollment -- while also calling for a minimum of 13 schools in any one division.

Opposition in a 31-4 vote only came from the East Yosemite and Central Sequoia leagues, each of which had two votes.

"The vote was a strong statement," section commissioner Jim Crichlow said. "Again, we'll do whatever is right for the kids and schools; we're employed for them. And we think we're doing right, philosophically, for the majority of the kids by putting them in competitive equity venues."

The proposal was crafted by Crichlow and three assistant commissioners based on a point system that weighed league and playoff results in the past two school years.

Appeals can be made to that group, by specific sport, by schools opposed to a divisional shift. Should that appeal be denied, the schools can then appeal to the section's executive committee.

The realignment hot spot targeted Division I, whose brackets have been typically undersized in large part because of overall separation in athletic department strength between Clovis Unified schools and the rest of the section.

Clovis schools -- combining large enrollments, top facilities, more on-campus coaches and structured feeder systems -- have generally won at least 75% of all section championship opportunities in the past 20 years.

Most affected -- and most contentious in the plan -- will be dominant D-II programs elevated to D-I, where they will be forced to tangle with larger schools from Clovis, Bullard and the best of Kern County.

Prominent among the examples are Tulare, El Diamante and Edison in football, Hanford girls in basketball and Monache's boys and girls in water polo.

Also affected greatly were private schools, such as Central Valley Christian taking the double leap from D-V to D-III in boys basketball; Garces, bumped from D-II to D-I in girls volleyball; and Memorial, going from D-II to D-I in boys soccer.

Hanford coach Tom Parrish, expressing a common sentiment among those opposed to the move, said it punishes overachievers while rewarding underachievers.

"All it does is penalize programs who work hard to get to the top," said the coach with a 104-28 record, two section titles (D-III and D-II) and two runners-up in five years with the Bullpups.

"I don't think coaching is equal, so what happens? They try to make schools equal," he said. "There are a handful of us out there spending our free time in the summer playing in tournaments, opening the gym and developing skill instead of playing golf. This rewards coaches who don't do anything with their teams and stay in a division where it's easy."

Parrish also pointed to the impact of state playoffs, where schools that advance will remain in the same division in which they competed on the section level.

Hanford (1,843 students) has progressively been elevated after winning the section D-III title in 2008.

"If we were still D-III, we would probably be the No. 1 seed in the Southern California Regionals this year," Parrish said. "That's another thing taken away."

Monache's boys water polo team has won three of the past five section D-II championships. But Marauders coach Brandon Weaver anticipates the problem of leaping into a D-I postseason pool after competing against exclusive D-II and D-III opposition in the East Yosemite League.

"That puts us at a competitive disadvantage," he said. "What you're going to see is blowout scores until the semis, then the final four will be the same Clovis schools who were there to begin with."

Buchanan boys water polo coach Dave Pickford, who recalled being beaten several times by Monache when he was coaching the Bears' girls early in the decade, countered: "The results may be the same, but competition brings out the best in people. And, maybe in two or three years, others will adjust to Clovis schools. They have good coaches, and there will be upsets. Eventually, everybody comes around."