For the second straight year, the CIF has told a Kern County high school football team that undefeated wasn't good enough to play in a state playoff bowl game.
Wasco, 13-0 and the Central Section Division IV champion, had hoped to hear its name called for the Division III CIF Southern California regional bowl game when the CIF's section commissioners met Sunday morning in Los Angeles.
But the Tigers were passed up in favor of San Diego-Madison (12-1), of the San Diego Section, and Monrovia (12-2), of the Southern Section. Monrovia will host Madison on Saturday night, with the winner facing the winner of the Northern Cal game between Kentfield-Marin Catholic and Sutter in the D-III state bowl championship Dec. 15 in Carson.
"We've very disappointed with the selection," Wasco coach Russell Prado said. "We really felt like we deserved a shot. We felt like that should have been us."
Wasco athletic director Raul Rangel was even more pointed, saying the CIF and its rankings of choice, those done by Cal Hi Sports, unfairly favored schools in the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas.
"They're just biased; there's no integrity," Rangel said. "They had us in front of Monrovia, in front of Madison, for weeks and then they have those teams jump us even though we keep winning.
"It's a sad day for small, rural communities throughout the state of California. We won everything outright, and it means nothing."
Ken Gunn, event director for the CIF state regional bowl games, was at the commissioners meeting but did not have a vote. He said Rangel's comments were inaccurate.
"I work with the committee each year, and there's not 10 people with a higher level of integrity," he said. "Each one does the best job they can to pick the strongest teams they can for these games. This is not some back-door thing; they have a lot of respect for each other. I've never seen anything that would show a lack of integrity."
Last year, the committee made a similar decision, excluding 13-0 Bakersfield in favor of 12-2 Rancho Santa Margarita-Santa Margarita for the D-I game. It's worth noting that last year there were no regional games, so there were two fewer spots. Under the current system, last year's Drillers almost certainly would have been selected.
This year's D-I Central Section champion, Clovis North (12-1), was selected. The Broncos will travel to Long Beach Poly (11-3) in the D-I regional game Friday night. The Open Division regional games are Harbor City-Narbonne (14-0) vs. Corona-Centennial (13-1) in the south and defending champion Concord-De La Salle (14-0) vs. Folsom (14-0) in the north.
Garces (12-1) and Ridgeview (11-2), eligible for the D-II regional game, were also not selected.
The commissioners' votes are not released, but Gunn said the D-III discussion, as expected, formed as an argument between Wasco's undefeated record and the other candidates' stronger schedules.
"Strength of schedule, what does that mean?" Rangel said. "How many of those people would have even seen us play? They just scratch each other's back, and that's how it its. It's a farce."
Gunn said the D-III vote in Southern California was one of three the committee took significantly longer to discuss before voting.
"That's what the discussion centered around was strength of schedule," Gunn said. "My only assumption, and this is strictly assumption because we don't know how they voted, would have been that strength of schedule was a factor."
Wasco, in winning its first section title since 1953, set section records for points scored (688) and point differential (they allowed 151 points). The Tigers won each game by at least 28 points until the D-IV championship, a 29-22 come-from-behind victory over Bakersfield Christian.
"We beat everybody on our schedule, scored a ton of points and didn't give up many," Prado said. "We really felt our boys deserved a chance."
Calpreps' computer rankings scored the Tigers' schedule a 4.2; Monrovia (8.8), Madison (21.5) and a fourth candidate, Newport Beach-Corona del Mar (9.2) all were significantly higher. Calpreps' overall rankings had Wasco (35.5 rating) higher than Monrovia (32.0) and Corona del Mar (29.7) and only behind Madison among eligible teams.
"That's really what it came down to," said Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow, who presented Wasco's case. "Of the teams up on the board, Monrovia and Madison had much stronger schedules.
"Wasco was undefeated and everybody accepted that, but we had no comparative scores, no head-to-head, no common opponents. We had nothing to go on except strength of schedule."
Rangel said Wasco's schedule was set three years in advance and he and the coaching staff had no idea this would be an issue at that point. He also said the schedule was an upgrade from previous years. Instead of facing D-V and D-VI teams like Lindsay and McFarland, the Tigers ventured into Bakersfield to face East, Mira Monte and Golden Valley.
"It's hard for us to travel to L.A. or Sacramento or San Diego, wherever, with the budget cuts we've all had," Prado said. "But if we've got to beef up our schedule, then we'll do that."
Crichlow said Wasco's silver lining is that its last memory of this season will be that of the school's first section title in 59 years.
"Maybe if they had gone down and gotten beaten, they'd have considered themselves losers, because that's the last game they played," Crichlow said. "That's one thing they can hang their hat on is that they finished as winners."
Though Wasco loses a large group of seniors to graduation, Prado eventually expects the Tigers to be back in this situation.
"I'm very surprised we didn't get picked," he said. "We went 13-0, but we didn't get a shot. That's what we're going to talk about. That's just fuel to the fire for next year."