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Off the Bench: Time for a New Playoff System

As the eve of the playoff pairings are upon us, the conversation regarding the number and worthiness of teams allowed into the postseason will once again come up. There is no doubt the playoffs produce some blowouts in the early rounds but the same can be said about even some of the semifinal and championship games since the new format has come into play. There have been enough instances where the expansion has worked and one reason is because depth is cyclical. Some of the districts every year are deeper than the ones they match up with in the first and second rounds, and some of those teams have used that momentum to carry them into the UNI-Dome. 

I can go old school and say the playoff changes went too far and I can also find reasons to agree with the expansion of the football playoffs. But I also feel there is a happy medium in this debate, one which I’ve highlighted in past years. My first problem with the playoffs today is the bunched up schedule that only allows kids four days to recover between each game leading up to each game through the quarterfinals, including from the final week of the season to the first round.

We hear plenty about safety in sports today and football is the main focus, but it seems to me we overlook it in our high school playoff format. It’s easy to disagree with it but the question is, how can we fix it? If we keep it the way it is today, then the only way to change it is to extend the playoffs into Thanksgiving weekend. The second choice is to cut the season into an eight game regular season and start the playoffs a week earlier.

I believe there was a need to expand the playoffs from the old system but went just a step too far. My idea is to allow the top three teams in each district to advance to the playoffs. That would cut the total number of teams from 32 to 24 in each class. Now the eastern half of 4A still uses the old points system and that also can be tweaked to make my system work.

In Class 4A out east, the three conference champions and the top remaining team by points would get an automatic berth and a first round bye. Out west in 4A, the four division champs would get the first round bye. The first round of the playoffs out east would pit the top and bottom of the remaining qualifiers against one another based on the points, and out west the third place team in each division would play at the second place team in their division in the first round before the pairing would be based on points in the second and quarterfinal rounds. The conference and division champs, along with all of the district champions in the other five classes, would gain home field advantage in the playoffs.

Classes 3A to 8-player would simply match up the second and third place teams in each district, with the district champions getting a bye in the first round. The second round and quarterfinal round would be based on the cross district system in place today and, again, the district champions would hold home field advantage unless two district champion would meet and then the alphabet rule would come into place.

This system would allow that break needed to give each team the normal amount of time to recover and prepare for a football game, and give those teams that earned conference, division and district titles the advantage they deserve for their regular season work.

I am sure others can come up with better ideas but no matter how it’s done, whether we allow everyone in, keep it the way it is today or make changes in the future, let’s err on the real side of safety and keep the games a week apart. Football is an extremely physical sport and if we are really worried about our young people playing the game then let’s correct it sooner than later. 

What are your thoughts? Do you like the system as it is today, or do you have your own designs? Before we kick off on the final week of the regular season, I want to congratulate everyone who played, coached or supported the game this season and wish all the best in the playoffs. Play hard and leave it all on the field, as we like to say, but also play with respect for your opponents and the game. We all would like to raise that championship trophy but only six teams will be able to do so in the end. But all involved can play like champions.

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