MERCED -- Ripon High's Chris Johnson is afforded the luxury of being a viewer this week. While his peers are on the sidelines, munching on gum and feverishly trying to come up with solutions, Johnson hopes to scout his first playoff opponent.
Of course, he'll only be guessing.
Going into the final week of the regular season, Johnson knows little more than this: His Indians are a top-two seed, will be playing in Division 4 and will be at home.
If Modesto Christian knocks off Orestimba Friday, Ripon's likely to host 5-5 Liberty Ranch, seeded No. 16 in the 16-team bracket. Life doesn't get much better than that.
Should Orestimba win, it could create an issue the section might be helpless to fix: Ripon could be forced to open with a TVL rival. The last four seeds could be TVL teams MC, Orestimba, Hughson and Hilmar though their exact order would have to determined.
If there's one thing the section detests, it's having teams from the same league meet in the playoffs. Member schools have told section commissioner Pete Saco to do what must be done to keep league rivals separated for as long as possible.
The TVL's depth could make that impossible. Of course, no one knows yet which of those four league teams Ripon might host.
That's why these playoffs are so enjoyable. So much is a mystery the final few weeks of the season. A few years back, when brackets were drawn up years in advance, we could peg first-round pairings with two weeks left in the season.
All we can do is guess, because the playoff selection committee is free to move teams due to nothing more than an opinion. It doesn't matter that few in that group saw more than a handful of games.
I wouldn't mind that, I guess, if the section let the rest of us in on the secrets they tell. All the work is done behind a locked door, and there is no paper trail to follow afterward.
I can't explain why the section feels it has to slam the door on the coaches and players that make the playoffs so great. Something going on back there we need to know?
It's time for transparency in the selection process. It's done easily enough by televising the process pipe the audio and video over the section's Web site.
That way no one intimidates the committee, a real fear for section officials, yet everyone can see and hear the committee at work. I like the idea for this reason, too: If I'm a coach, I'm listening to what is being said and taking it to heart when I design my 2013 schedule.
I think it's only fair coaches and players, taxpayers and the kids of taxpayers, see how their money is spent. Each school in the section has an annual membership fee, so we're talking public money here.
The section has turned down my request to watch the process on a video monitor in another room, saying people on the committee would be too intimidated to speak freely if they were being watched.
That's the best the section's got? Someone with so little confidence to express an opinion probably should not be making decisions that will impact so many schools.
What message does the section think it sends to student-athletes, political neophytes who are taught in class that our great democratic process thrives on transparency?
Because the section keeps its selection process under lock and key, schools are going to feel the committee's wrath when the brackets are released Saturday and there will be no explanation.
Pitman was stunned when it lost a preferred seed in 2011. Word was that some on the committee were told by friends that Pitman wasn't as good as its 9-1 record suggested. The Pride did win their playoff opener,
Will it be victimized again? If the Pride beats Turlock, it takes an 8-2 record and what should be the No. 4 seed into Division 1. Or the same folks on the committee, who still haven't seen the Pride, could listen to their friends again.
While part of Pitman's problem is a soft non-league schedule, the larger issue is location. Because it plays in the southern end of the section, few on the committee take the time to come see Pitman play.
The Pride can help resolve the issue by lining up a few difficult foes the first half of the season, but the section has an obligation to be honest and open with all.
With the regular season coming to a close this weekend, here is my list of league MVPs: Downey's Aaron Zwahlen in the MMC and Buhach Colony's Stefon Gold in the CCC. Both were the dominant offensive stars and guided teams to titles.
Fullback-defensive end Nikk Ryan is the clear pick in the VOL Oakdale went from good to great when he moved to fullback and the WAC's best is John Mundt. Oregon wants him as a tight end, but Central Catholic needs him at linebacker if it hopes to make a run at the State Bowl. He has 11 sacks.
To the victor go the spoils, in most situations, but that's not why Kyle Wengel is the only choice in the TVL. His star receiver limping on a bad ankle much of the fall, Wengel made a star out of the backup tossing 15 TDs to junior Bradley Clark. One more thing: Ripon was perfect in the TVL and 10-0 for the first time in 30 years.
Le Grand's Ryan Martinez was on my list, but no better than No. 3 on his own team, a month ago. He's trampled the field with a four-game run that features 75 carries for 705 yards and 11 TDs.
I'll be surprised to pick up an all-league team and not see those kids as MVPs, but this next one, it will be an upset if it comes to fruition. I like Tanner Krieg in the MLL, because he's carrying Summerville through a 7-2 season he had 46 carries for 259 in narrow losses to Argonaut and Calaveras.