Mapping a path for playoffs

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The beginning of the district playoffs in high school football could take on a whole new outlook beginning in 2006, a thought that does not sit well with some area coaches.

A revamped high school football schedule which includes an eight-week regular season followed by a two-week, seeded district tournament currently is under consideration and could be implemented as soon as the 2006 season.

Eight-team districts would take on bracket formats with seedings after the conclusion of the regular season. The districts would be based on geography.

The higher seeded teams would host district games in week 9, with the winners advancing to what essentially would be two district championship games in week 10. After week 10, the win- ners of each side of the eight-team bracket would meet in the sectional round.

St. Vincent coach Keith Winkler, whose team captured the Class 1 state title last season, said he sees plenty of potential snags in the new playoff proposal and does not see a need to fix what is not broken.

"If you're going to be the best you have to beat the best," he said. "It doesn't matter when you face them."

Among the potential problems Winkler sees in the playoff proposal is added travel for many area schools, especially among the smaller classes. Class 1 teams like St. Vincent and Chaffee or their opponents may have to travel as many as five hours just for an opening-round district game.

"My personal opinion is I don't think it's been thought out," Winkler said. "I see it as being bad for football, especially for small schools.

"For example: With us, if you put us in an eight-team district, you're going to have to travel to Van Far or South Shelby. ... When you start talking about that you're talking about a great amount of distance."

Before teams hit the road, though, they will have to be seeded. It is not uncommon for district seeding meetings in other sports to last for hours and still end up with plenty of gripes. With some potential districts likely featuring few if any head-to-head meetings -- again something likely to especially affect area small schools -- the seeding process could become pretty heated.

"They say they want to seed the districts," Winkler said. "I've sat through seed meetings in basketball tournaments, and I want to know how it's going to be done fairly. ... There's a lot of finagling going into those things."

As the district playoff format now stands, teams play a seven-week regular season followed by a three-week district playoff schedule. Teams are divided into four-team districts for pool play with the top team advancing to the sectional round.

"I don't see anything wrong with the system we have now because you can control your own destiny," Jackson coach Carl Gross said. "If you win, then you move on."

Central coach Lawrence Brookins said in the end he's more worried about his team's performance than the playoff structure.

"As an individual coaching staff, you still have to do your best, and the kids have to play well no matter what the format is," he said.

Complaints with the current format center around the ability of a team to make it into the sectional round with a losing record.

The new playoff format would place more emphasis on the the regular-season schedule for seeding purposes. And the eight-team bracket format will make it more likely for two teams advance from what are currently stronger four-team districts at the expense of teams from weaker districts.

"It makes weeks 1 through 8 mean more, you might say, which is probably the underlining criticism the current system faces," MSHSAA spokesman Rick Kindhart said.

Brookins said playing well in the regular season in the current system is still important.

"People joke and say you can go 0-7 and win your district, but chances of that happening aren't real high," he said. "You've still got to be consistent."

While the first eight weeks may become more important under the new system, the final week of the season would mean little for half of the teams. The losers in week 9 -- the first week of the district playoffs -- play in a consolation game in week 10. Under the current system -- while plenty of teams enter the final week of district play without a hope of winning their districts -- a spoiler factor still exists.

The proposal will be the subject of plenty of debate before a decision is made at the MSHSAA Board of Directors meeting Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. A public hearing in the Southeast region to discuss the issue is planned for early September.

And the playoff proposal, which the Missouri Football Coaches Association helped to create, will have its share of detractors.

"Their [MFCA] philosophy is to promote the game of football and better the game of football," Winkler said, "and I don't think they're doing it here."

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