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Postseason changes are coming in Sac-Joaquin Section

Big changes to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoff structure are headed our way.

When the section realigns its leagues for 2010, it will also change its postseason format. Specific changes aren't known at this time, mainly because section officials haven't put their proposals to paper. It's only being discussed in general terms at this point.

The section's realignment committee has its first meeting Jan. 7 at Elkhorn Country Club in Stockton. At that time, section officials will provide the committee with their recommendations, and they'll be discussed in board rooms, athletic offices and on fields of play throughout the year.

Two days later, a new playoff committee will meet at Elkhorn.

"It's a congruent committee parallel to what the realignment committee is doing," section Commissioner Pete Saco said. "It will be discussing the format and structure of our playoffs."

Section officials will provide the playoff committee with suggestions, then the playoff committee will take over.

Saco refused comment when asked about the section's proposal, other than this: "We're still working on that concept, putting it to paper. I'm not sure what it will look like, but there will be some changes."

We can put together some of the pieces. Ideas are being mentioned by section officials at league meetings, and what we're hearing is interesting:

EXPANSION for all sports.

In Division I football, the current 16-team bracket would move to 32 teams. The remaining football brackets would grow from eight teams to 12 with first-round byes for the top four teams. Similar expansion would happen in all other non-power rating sports.

It's unknown if section officials will expand the sports that use power ratings to decide their playoff teams (basketball and volleyball). All volleyball and basketball brackets consist of 16 teams. But if a handful of sports expand playoff brackets, it's a solid bet volleyball and basketball would follow.

A 32-team football bracket would mean nearly three-quarters of the section's 44 Division I teams would advance to the postseason. That's not quite as liberal as the Central Section's playoff policy (any team that wishes to play in the playoffs can), but it's still allowing a load of teams.

SEEDING. Only league champions would be guaranteed a playoff berth.

After that, a seeding committee would fill the remainder of the bracket. That committee could choose five teams from one league and only two from another.

This, combined with playoff expansion, means the section would have fewer situations where better teams stay home while lesser teams qualify. That's an issue in the lower football divisions this year, where the Valley Oak League only receives two playoff berths while the Capital Valley Conference receives three. Same thing in Division V, where the Trans-Valley League has two playoff spots and the Mother Lode League three.

DATE changes. A side effect to playoff expansion would mean the fall and winter seasons would start a week earlier.

The California Interscholastic Federation wants all of its sections to end their football seasons in the same week, so if the Sac-Joaquin Section wants to expand its playoffs, it must start them earlier. To do that and have the same length of season, the starting dates must be moved up.

FIRST-ROUND home games in baseball and softball. Currently, all baseball and softball postseason games are at neutral sites. That, combined with most brackets being single elimination, cancels any home-field advantage earned by the higher seed. But there are whispers that the section may propose, along with expansion, first-round home games for those sports.

At this point, we don't know if many -- or any -- of these proposals will be there Jan. 9. But we do know changes are coming.

Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at wdeboard@modbee.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.

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