Five questions: CIF basketball open division

Mario Dunn and Jabari Bird are juniors and have a chance to do this again. Mark Tennis/ESPNHS

California hoops may never be the same with the addition of the open division next season. If it works well, it could have ramifications across the nation.

There’s no secret that the CIF state basketball playoffs, for both boys and girls, has needed a shot in the arm for a long time.

Two weekends ago, the CIF Federation Council may have provided that boost by voting in favor of adding an open division as a sixth division to the state playoffs.

There’s a good chance that adding an open division will result in increased attendance and TV viewership. Two years ago, for example, the Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. Mary’s of Stockton girls possibly would have played in an open division final that also would have determined which team was going to be No. 1 in the nation.

The open division will be for teams from any division, any section and regardless of enrollment.

Criteria include winning two straight section titles, playing in a regional final in three of the previous four years and appearing in the top 10 of the Cal-Hi Sports, MaxPreps or Calpreps rankings for two straight years, including the current one.

Two other considerations will be that no section is required to send more than four teams to either boys or girls brackets and that the eight-team open division brackets do not have to be completely filled.

Section commissioners in the north and south will determine the open division brackets once the section playoffs are completed. They’d then seed the other five divisions just as they always have and would fill in spots left by teams moving up to the open division probably with additional semifinalist or quarterfinalist section playoff teams.

Here are some questions some may have as the open division takes shape prior to the 2012-13 season:

1. Is this going to level the playing field between private and public schools?

For the second straight season, all 10 CIF state champions in basketball in 2012 were from private schools. This is going to give public schools a better chance to win state crowns, but it’s not going to “level the playing field.” In fact, it may only result in just a few public schools here and there winning titles. In Northern California anyway, for every Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Salesian of Richmond (both boys and girls) that might be going up to the open division, there’s often a second-place team from the same private school powerhouse league that is just not that too far behind.

2. Will a school that has never won a CIF state title before get any special consideration to avoid being placed in the open division?

This was a big concern among many who devised this proposal, which is why several steps were taken to make that scenario more difficult to arise. First, there doesn’t have to be eight-team open division brackets. It’s only “up to” eight teams, which means smaller brackets and first-round byes for the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds won’t be discouraged. Second, teams that have not won two straight section titles or haven’t been in a regional final in three of the last four years won’t have to go to the open division, either. It’s not among the criteria whether a school has or hasn’t won a state title before so it is possible that a school that hasn’t won one will have to go up. If it wins another section title, Sheldon of Sacramento, for example, would probably be in the open division for the boys next year even though it has never won a state title before.

3. How will the addition of an open division impact the schedules of elite teams?

For teams that have aspirations to contend for mythical national rankings championships, it would have none. For those that know they will probably be open division if they win a section title next year, then there could be the desire to save some money and not travel all over the country when a final ranking will be determined by what happens in an open division state tournament anyway.

4. Will there now be open divisions in other CIF state championship sports?

We could see it for girls volleyball and for the two boys volleyball regional playoffs (the NorCal event starts next year). There are no divisions of any kind in wrestling and track-and-field and don’t see the need for it in cross country. The basketball concept in California, though, is ground-breaking nationally. New Jersey has a tournament of champions at the end of its various divisional playoffs, but no other state has had an open division format like this one. If it works well, we could see other states (especially Florida) take a good, hard look at doing the same thing.

5. How is this going to effect the Cal-Hi Sports rankings?

First, it makes the overall top 10 of the rankings much more significant since that will be one of the main cutoffs for the open division criteria. We can in fact see the possibility of some schools lobbying us to be ranked lower, such as No. 11 instead of No. 10, so those schools wouldn’t have to go up to the open division and instead play in a more natural division. Second, with an open division, there’s no longer going to be any difficult decisions for a final State Team of the Year. That still happened in football even with an open division in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but with all of the very top-ranked teams now playing each other it will probably not happen. Technically, it could happen if LeBron James Jr. were to suddenly appear at a school that wouldn’t qualify for the open division but has wins over other top teams, but we don’t envision too many other possibilities.

Do you have a question about this topic or how it might impact your school? Email it Mark.Tennis@espn.com or twitter it to @CalHiSports. We’ll post the best five questions next week and will answer them.