Football playoffs not rocket science
by Joe Cannon: Cannon's Corner
Jun 18, 2014 | 1128 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
According to an old adage, “Two heads are better than one.”

While a second opinion is often beneficial, a third, fourth, fifth, etc. can cause nothing but cause trouble.

As anyone who has ever tried to get something done by committee can attest, another old saying comes into effect — “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the stew.”

Once again the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association is trying modify the state’s football playoffs.

Once again the new proposal being floated for consideration looks pretty good on the outside, but there are some aspects of it that are troubling.

Many coaches have been clammering to go back to the old five-classification system, which was last used in 2008, because it was easier to figure out who was in the playoffs and who they’d be playing, sometimes two or three weeks ahead of time.

However, that flawed setup allowed several teams with losing records into the postseason, including some with 1-9 and 2-8 records, while others with as many as five or six wins did not make it, due to the unequal number of teams in the regions. Some regions had as few as five teams, meaning all but one would make the playoffs, while others had as many as nine, meaning more than half of their squads would not advance.

The current Z-plan was enacted in 2009 and has teams playing in three classifications of districts during the regular season before doubling the number of classifications to a half dozen for the playoffs.

Instead of only district games determining which teams make the playoffs, a complicated list of 17 tie-breaking criteria is used to pick the top 32 teams (24 in 1A and 2A) from each classification.

While this system is more fair in rewarding deserving teams, because of its nature, the final playoff brackets cannot be determined until all regular season games have been played.

While some like the excitement of the “March Madness Selection Show” atmosphere it causes, coaches can’t plan ahead because they don’t know who or where they’ll be playing the following Friday.

The chaos the selection process has caused has drawn the ire of fans across the state, but nowhere more than locally — just ask any Blue Raider fan.

The parameters of the current plan have been tweaked each year its been used, including more changes earlier this month.

Currently 176 of the state’s 305 Division I football-playing schools (58 percent) go after one of a half-dozen state championship trophies.

Division II, which is made up solely of private schools, has two classifications for a total of 31 football-playing schools. In D-II A, 12 of the 20 teams make the playoffs, while all 11 D-II AA squads automatically qualify for the postseason.

While reverting to the former playoff format would reduce the number of overall playoff teams to 160, because it only has five classifications for D-I schools, the TSSAA has come up with a plan whereby it can have its cake and eat it too.

Under the new proposal there would still be six classifications, but Class 6A would only have the 32 largest schools in the state in it; then the other 273 teams would be divided in the five other divisions (Class 1A-5A), made up of 55 or 54 squads each. The TSSAA would actually be raising the number of playoff teams to 190, meaning many more squads would be advancing to the postseason with below .500 records.

The fly in the ointment under this plan is that all Class 6A teams would make the playoffs each year, regardless of records, meaning there could be some 0-10 squads in the bracket. This is already being done in D-II AA.

How is it fair for one 32-team bracket to be filled with every team in that division, while the other five divisions will have less than 60 percent of their teams eligible for a state championship run?

It’s not.

Should the TSSAA vote in the new plan, an adjustment should me made to the 6A playoffs to allow just 16 to 18 teams to advance.

While searching far and wide for playoff formats that make things simpler, the TSSAA should be looking under its own nose.

Why can’t football be played under the same setup as the other major sports in the state? Basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball all have the same teams in their districts in a three D-I classification system, so why can’t football?

I know the other sports can be played on consecutive days, so every team advances to the postseason and district tournaments can be completed in a week, while football can’t do this.

But why not let the regular season district records determine the top two or three teams and allow them to make the playoff brackets?

If you take the top three teams, the district champs would get an opening-round bye in a 48-team bracket, adding just one week to the overall playoff scheme. That would put 144 teams (44 percent) in the postseason.

If just the top two teams advance, that’s a 32-team bracket right there, which is what we have now. Of course that would mean only 96 of the state’s 325 football-playing schools would make the playoffs, but at least it would be the 30 percent that deserve to be there.

Maybe it just me, but I don’t think everybody should make the playoffs.

The postseason should be a reward for the teams that have earned it. I’m not a big ‘Let’s give everybody a participation ribbon’ kind of guy.

Of course the problem with my solution is it would significantly reduce the TSSAA’s slice of the playoff pie, as it receives a significant chunk of each postseason “gate.” No one is in favor of reducing their own income. That’s why the more playoff games the better seems to be the answer every time an adjustment is made.

Come on TSSAA, bigger is not necessarily better. Trust me, I know from personal experience.

Of course all of this hard work may go out the window in a few months as the TSSAA’s Legislative Council is strongly leaning toward a complete separation of public and private schools, which means we have to go back to the drawing board once again.