Time Out by Joe Flanagan

Time to trim state football playoff fields?

Some numbers for you to consider:
351-64. 328-52. 679-116.
So, what do those combinations mean?
First, we have the aggregate score from all games between Class C1 through Class D2 #1 & #16 seeds in the opening round of the 2009 Nebraska State Football Playoffs – 351-64 (an average final of 44-8).
Next is the combined total scores of the games in those classes featuring #2 seeds vs. #15 seeds – 328-52 (41-6 average).
Finally, add ‘em all up and you get 679-116, an average game score of 42-7.
Excuse me? These are the playoffs?
There are two things I take from those numbers: 1) Our Boone Central Cardinals, as a #16 seed, did a great job to lose by just 13 points to Chadron (21-8) last Friday, 2) Qualifying 32 teams per class in Nebraska’s lower four divisions is simply unnecessary.
Along with the numbers, consider these facts. In 16 games pitting #1s vs. #16s and #2s vs. #15s, only three were decided by less than 26 points (and those contests were all played in challenging weather/field conditions with the three losers scoring a combined  total of 8 points). Also, in classes C1, C2, D1 and D2, 25 teams qualified for the playoffs with .500 or lower records, including eight with outright losing marks. That means 20 percent of the 2009 C1 through D2 playoff teams did not have a winning record in regular-season play.
All I can say is, the NSAA state playoffs must make dollars and cents, because, in my opinion, they don’t make much real sense.
Now, let me be clear, this is not a condemnation of Boone Central qualifying the past two seasons with 3-5 records. The format is currently for 32 teams per class and the Cards did what was required to be eligible. Boone Central did a nice job rebounding from an 0-4 start in 2009, winning three of it’s final four district games. In a regular-season finale played in miserable weather conditions, the Cardinals were obviously the team that wanted to be on the field competing – a credit to our players and coaches. BC also fought a ridiculously long trip to Chadron, terrible field conditions and a #1 seed to be competitive in its playoff contest.
But that doesn’t change my contention that 32 teams in a playoff bracket is overkill. I felt that way when our Cardinals were among the top seeds in previous playoff fields.
After all, what’s the purpose of a playoff? When instituted, back in 1975, the playoffs were intended to determine true champions on the field rather than having “mythical” titles handed out by several prep sportswriters at the state’s largest daily newspapers.
Yes, playoffs are meant to determine a champion. Not to prolong an “average” season. Not to reward a “good” year. Can anyone possibly believe there are 32 teams per class capable of capturing a title?
The NSAA has tried various formats over the 34-year history of the state football playoffs – everything from a mere four teams per class to having all schools eligible for an opening round. The current 32-team fields for the lower four classes is twice the number necessary, in my opinion.
I can see an argument that eight is not enough. Seperating teams between, say, seven through ten could indeed be difficult many years. With 16 teams, I’m sure number 17 would also complain about being omitted. But, seriously, would those 17th teams often be a threat to reach a title game? Seriously?
Currently, there are 10 districts per class. Ten district winners and six wildcards should almost always catch the deserving teams. Or, switch to eight districts with eight at-large qualifiers. Bottom line, 16 should be the cut-off come playoff time.
If the dollars and cents don’t add up, return to a nine-game regular season. Or, how about a novel idea – match up teams that miss the playoffs for a season finale. Set games between teams 17-32, teams 33-48 and teams 49-64. Play them on Thursday, begin the actual playoffs Friday. That would produce more competitive contests for everyone and the possibility of games between schools that don’t traditionally play each other (with the added flexibility to avoid excess travel).
Just a thought.
Better yet, maybe, just stick with the  current eight-game schedule and simply cut the number of playoff rounds, reducing the physical burden on our young athletes.
There are a number of options that could fairly accomplish limiting playoff fields. I’d simply like to see any one chosen, sparing us some of the numbers we saw in last week’s “Qualifying Round” … 74-14 … 56-0 … 66-16 … 49-7.
Playoffs? Really?