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Villa Park Relieved to Receive CIF Football Playoff Opportunity

Villa Park Relieved to Receive CIF Football Playoff Opportunity

The Villa Park High School football team's wide receivers pose for a group photo during a season-opening trip in Oahu, Hawaii, on Aug. 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Dusan Ancich via Instagram/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

11/1/2023

Updated: 11/1/2023

It’s difficult to imagine that any of the other 215 teams set to participate in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section football playoffs are as relieved to have the opportunity as Villa Park High School of Orange County.
The Spartans went 9–1 during the regular season, missing out on an undefeated campaign by just one point, and claimed a share of the Crestview League championship, fashioning a playoff-caliber resume if ever there was one.
And yet, Villa Park endured nothing but anxious moments before last weekend’s Southern Section playoff-selections announcement.
“We barely got in,” Villa Park Coach Dusan Ancich told The Epoch Times. “It’s nuts. What was presented to us was that it didn’t look good. It’s a frustrating process, really frustrating.”
The Spartans ultimately landed in the Division 3 field and will host Millikan of Long Beach at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at Fred Kelly Stadium in Orange.
“Our guys will be ready to go,” Mr. Ancich said. “It is what it is. We got in. It’s just so dumb that we had to pray to get in, with our record and our situation. It just makes no sense.”
A combination of factors, including the CIF Southern Section’s “equity-based” playoff-selection system that relies exclusively on computer power rankings, led to Villa Park’s precarious state.
Villa Park High School football team at practice during its season-opening trip in Oahu, Hawaii, on Aug. 9, 2023. (Courtesy of Dusan Ancich via Instagram/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Villa Park High School football team at practice during its season-opening trip in Oahu, Hawaii, on Aug. 9, 2023. (Courtesy of Dusan Ancich via Instagram/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

The Spartans also suffered from the fact that the Crestview League included only four teams. While they went 2–1 in league play, so did Foothill of Santa Ana and Yorba Linda. Foothill handed Villa Park its only loss, 22–21 on Oct. 12, the Spartans edged Yorba Linda 34–33 in overtime the following week, and Yorba Linda beat Foothill 45–29 on Oct. 26.
A three-way coin flip determined that Foothill and Yorba Linda would receive the Crestview League’s two automatic CIF playoff berths, leaving Villa Park in limbo as an at-large candidate.
The fourth team in the Crestview League, Brea Olinda, meanwhile, lost all three of its league games by at least 51 points, finished 5–5 overall and still gained an at-large entry into the Division 10 playoffs.
The computer rankings supplied by Calpreps.com placed the Spartans 30th overall in the Southern Section, Yorba Linda 51st and Foothill 70th. As automatic qualifiers, Yorba Linda (7–3) wound up in Division 4 and Foothill (6–4) in Division 5, while Villa Park was among the at-large possibilities in Division 3.
Given that the CIF “groups” teams based on the average number of automatic qualifiers across all divisions, and starts each division with an automatic qualifier, it’s not as if a team in the Spartans’ situation could be dropped down a division once they had been grouped in Division 3.
As it turned out, with a computer power rating of 38.6, Villa Park edged Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks (38.4) for the lone at-large berth in Division 3. Notre Dame finished 5–5 overall, including 1–4 for fifth place in the six-team Mission League.
Students play a high school game of football in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Students play a high school game of football in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“You have to always remember the computer rankings will determine where a school is placed and in whatever division,” Southern Section Assistant Commissioner Thom Simmons told The Epoch Times. “If you’re talking about a team that has an inferior loss or an inferior win and it helps push them up or push them down, that’s just the computer saying they’re placed where they need to be placed competitively.”
Among the primary goals of the member-approved Southern Section selection system that is now in its third season, Mr. Simmons said, is to reward teams that automatically qualify by virtue of their performance in league play—and in some instances, the result of coin flips.
And just as is the case with the College Football Playoff system, strength of schedule plays a huge part in the computer rankings.
It all does make for some interesting scenarios, such as San Juan Hills of San Juan Capistrano being the top-seeded team in Division 3 and seemingly having as good a chance as anyone to win a section championship. Had the Stallions’ computer rating of 41.3 been a point higher, however, they would have entered the playoffs as the bottom team in Division 2, a distinction that instead fell to Edison of Huntington Beach.
“Competitive equity-based playoffs do not mean that you are necessarily guaranteed a chance at winning a championship,” Mr. Simmons said. “Competitive equity-based playoffs are saying that you are competitive in the division you’re in with the schools you’re playing against. It’s a thing that gets missed by some people. They think, ‘Oh, you’re automatically saying that you are going to be a finalist in this thing.’ No, what we’re saying is you can compete in that division.”
Villa Park certainly figures to “compete” in Division 3.
“Right now, it’s zero and zero,” Mr. Ancich said. “Everything in the past is over. That’s how it is.”
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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