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CIF playoffs: One massive undertaking
March 17, 2014, 05:00 AM By John Horgan Daily Journal

 The casual high school basketball fan can be excused if he or she is somewhat baffled by the size and scope of the California Interscholastic Federation state tournament.

 The annual hoops extravaganza has become a sporting goliath that embraces 307 secondary schools, both public and private, and more than 3,000 student-athletes from the Oregon border in the north to San Diego in the south.

 This year, the CIF playoffs, which continue this week, include six separate divisions and about 20 percent of all 1,500-plus institutions under CIF jurisdiction. The 307 teams are divided roughly equally between boys’ and girls’ aggregations.

 The 12 tournaments (six for boys and six for girls) are divided geographically between north and south.

 The current northern and southern playoffs are designed to come up with champions from both halves of the sprawling state; these teams will then meet March 28 and 29 in Sacramento to determine the 2014 CIF titlists.

 In all, there will be a total of 295 single-elimination games played over a three-week period. Total attendance is estimated to be in excess of 300,000. Champions will be crowned in the Open Division (for teams judged to be the best of the best, regardless of enrollment) and in five other divisions, I through V, which are based on school size.

 All of the entrants first had to compete in their own section tournaments. California has 10 such sections, six in the north and four in the south.

 The northern sections include two anachronisms stemming from the early history of state athletics, the tiny fiefdoms of San Francisco and Oakland, which have only 19 schools between them.

 Their separate status — highly valued because, frequently, the top two teams (both boys and girls) from both cities receive coveted automatic bids into the CIF basketball event — remains a point of some contention in certain quarters.

 Still, efforts to fold San Francisco’s Academic Athletic Association and the Oakland Athletic League into the Central Coast Section (of which San Mateo County schools are a part) and North Coast Section, respectively, have come to naught. Politics tend to trump any and all arguments.

 An example of the dated reality of the pair’s favored situation is the fact that the Southern Section in the southern half of the state has nearly as many schools as the entire northern half of the state combined, close to 600.

 Which means the Southern Section is about 30 times larger than the San Francisco and Oakland sections combined.

 The CIF was created in Los Angeles by public school principals a century ago. It grew as the state grew.

 Today, CIF, operating out of its administrative office in Sacramento, conducts state championship competition in football, wrestling, girls’ volleyball, golf, track and field, cross-country and basketball.

 The first state champion in basketball was crowned in 1916. That competition lasted until 1928 when it was terminated. The state tournament was not re-instituted until 1981 when girls’ basketball was included for the first time.

 Within seven years, those playoffs had expanded to five divisions. Last year, the Open Division was added as well.

 The entire tournament exercise is a complex undertaking. The state finals handbook alone is 23 pages in length.

 John Horgan can be contacted by email at



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