News Examiner: Putting perplexing playoff system in the past

By Chris Brooks for The News Examiner

chrisbrookscolumn00

I’m not an astrophysicist, and I sure don’t play one on TV.

But when I sit down to look at the football standings that the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) puts out on a weekly basis, I feel like I’m underqualified to look at them.

Why?

Figuring out where certain teams stand – such as Station Camp – is a complicated, time-consuming exercise. I don’t have the time, and I’m pretty sure you certainly don’t either.

Let’s break this down from a fundamental standpoint. We’ll use Station Camp’s standing in the Class 6A postseason chase, because it’s the most tedious.

The basics: Station Camp is 5-4 overall and 3-3 in District 9-AAA with Hendersonville coming in for Friday’s season finale.

Thirty-two teams make the 6A cut, starting with district champions getting top seeds, followed by district runners-up in the next slots.

Then the wild-card madness – one of the fundamental flaws of this system – begins.

Station Camp is currently positioned 26th after last week’s games. That gets them in, right?

Yes, it does for now. A win over Hendersonville will get the Bison to six wins, and nobody outside the top 32 could bump them out. That’s the easiest scenario.

However, if they lose, it gets complicated.

Of the six 6A teams currently with five wins, the Bison are last in the group due to tiebreakers, the first of them being teams on their schedule who have won 50 percent of their games (having played just three through last week). If Beech, Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet all win this week, that number doubles. Keep that in mind.

However, there are currently 10 teams with four wins (White Station, La Vergne, Farragut, Germantown, Mt. Juliet, Bradley Central, Bartlett, Cordova, Wilson Central and Walker Valley). Subtract Germantown from that group, since they don’t play this week and can’t get to five wins. The other nine currently have better tiebreaker scenarios than the Bison.

The second criteria is how many wins over those teams at .500 or better a school has to this point (zero for the Bison so far).

After that, it’s most opponent wins, then fewest opponent losses.

Four of those four-win teams are outside the top 32, meaning if three of the four-win teams lose (Germantown can’t get to five wins), then Station Camp gets in regardless of their result against the Commandos.

Figuring out where teams stand before the final week takes an advanced degree. It shouldn’t. It also takes aspirin. It shouldn’t.

Of those 10 teams currently with four wins in Class 6A, Station Camp would only have had to worry about two – District 9-AAA rivals Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central – under next year’s system, in which the top four teams in each region qualify for the postseason.

However, because total wins – not district standings – are the critical factor for most teams this year, fans on Friday will have to do a lot of scoreboard watching if the Bison fall behind against Hendersonville.

And it shouldn’t be that way.

Five of those 10 teams – Farragut, Bradley Central, La Vergne, Mt. Juliet and Cordova – just so happen to play on Thursday night this week to avoid playing on Halloween. That will help make things a little less crazy on Friday.

I hope I’ve confused you, because if I have, then you know how convoluted the system is and why the TSSAA scrapped it two years shy of the normal reclassification period.

When this playoff system was instituted prior to the 2009 season, it was done with good intentions. The economy was bad, and the TSSAA tried to help schools save money by limiting travel during the early rounds of the playoffs. It was also put in to limit those two- and three-win teams that had no business being in a playoff game.

But that’s where the plusses end.

Some teams had to scramble to fill out the schedule, because local teams didn’t want to play other teams in games they felt were unwinnable.

It ended up sending Station Camp to Brighton last year, which is a round-trip of about eight hours. Where’s the savings in that adventure?

It didn’t always save travel distance in the playoffs, either. Ask Hendersonville, who traveled to Arlington (which is just inside Shelby County, near Memphis) last year for their first-round game. That’s a four-hour drive.

And if you wanted to find out where you stood if you weren’t among the top two in your district? Better get plenty of scratch paper and carve out some time in front of the computer. It wasn’t an easy exercise.

There are enough combinations and permutations that anybody who tried to figure it out had to be some kind of engineer, or had way too much time on their hands.

It’s unfortunate, because the Bison’s playoff fate shouldn’t be determined by what happens in East Tennessee. They should be shooting for fourth or better in the district, not 32nd in Class 6A.

Next year, that will be the case. We’re going back to a system where, in five classes, it’s mathematically possible that a two-win team could make it in a six-team region, if they win the right games. That’s a tradeoff a lot of people would make in place of the headaches of this system.

There’s no perfect solution, because this is a geographically imperfect state. But the TSSAA is trying.

Next year, it’ll be simpler, and the ill-fated playoff system will be history.

Hopefully, the door doesn’t hit it in the you-know-what on the way out.

Reach Chris Brooks at 575-7118 and on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s