My Pitch

Changes to playoff format have failed

Posted

There is nothing quite like playoff football.

Some of the best games that I have ever covered have been the high school football playoffs. The state’s top teams get to lay it all on the line, win or go home, and the state gets to truly see who the top team is each year.

From 2010-2017, over an eight-year span, Bishop Hendricken and La Salle met in the Division I state championship six times, including the last four. It essentially became a foregone conclusion that the two top private school programs in the state would clash while the rest of Division 1 was left to watch and settle for any sort of consolation.

The Rhode Island Interscholastic League decided to address this issue prior to the 2018 kickoff, and its solution was to eliminate a traditional playoff bracket, and to have the top regular season clubs from 1A and 1B meet at the state title, while the next four teams in each respective group get the opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl.

To put it mildly, I disagree with this decision and system.

First off, it ultimately accomplished nothing considering Hendricken and La Salle both locked up state title berths, so for the fifth straight year that is the matchup.

What a colossal flop.

This is my first season covering high school football in Rhode Island, so there could be something I am missing, but I am perplexed with the idea that by eliminating a typical bracket, it will lead to a tougher road to the state championship for these two private schools.

Both Hendricken and La Salle had to compete against top-tier competition in the regular season, don’t get me wrong, but they also got to face some of the bottom feeders in the standings, as well as some of the ordinary teams floating in the middle of the pack. What would lead anyone to believe that the Hawks and Rams would not be able to secure a first-place finish in the regular season is beyond me.

Although both clubs would be the favorite in a typical playoff bracket, as they are nearly every year, the odds of them being upset by a fellow playoff team is much greater than not securing first place in my opinion. That is the point of the playoffs … make the best teams go head to head over a few weeks and see who comes out on the other end.

It almost feels like the mindset when creating this new system was, “There is no way that any team will be able to top the Hawks and Rams in the playoffs, but maybe a team can emerge in the regular season and top them in the standings.” That logic is backwards in my opinion … literally speaking, I feel like the approach should be the exact opposite.

There are so many other issues and angles that make me shake my head regarding this topic as well.

The other is the spirit of competition, and wanting to prove yourself as the unquestioned best. Hendricken and La Salle probably are the best teams in the state this season, but wouldn’t the players and coaches feel much more validated after winning a tough playoff game or two than just a regular season title? I know that they are not the ones that came up with the system so I’m not pointing a finger, but I feel like there is something much more gratifying about running the gauntlet versus just looking at the standings.

Then the whole Super Bowl topic.

Call it whatever you want, but to me that sounds like a consolation prize. Some coaches have told me otherwise, and that it is a great accomplishment. Sure, taking home a Super Bowl indicates that you have a good team and have had a successful season (for the most part), but it ultimately is not the same as a state title. In my eyes, it’s a runner-up trophy, a pat on the back, an interim championship.

It reminds me of the bowl system in the college football postseason. Sure, winning a bowl is a nice accomplishment and is something to take pride in … but any coach and team would happily trade in multiple bowl wins for a national championship. Facts are facts.

To say that this is a product of the trophy generation would be a little too strong. I don’t believe that this is the RIIL trying to ensure that every player is a winner, and deserves to be rewarded. I honestly believe that the RIIL was simply trying to make a more level playing field which is fine with me.

My ultimate point amidst my rambling is that there should be an actual playoff for the state’s top prize. To essentially forfeit or concede the postseason, in my opinion, goes against the spirit of competition.

Another point that I must make is that I am not trying to diminish what Hendricken or La Salle have accomplished this year. Up to this point they have proven to be the top two clubs, and they most likely would have been the two teams to come out of a playoff bracket.

I’m not sure if this was ever the system, but the best alternative I can come up with to make sure it is not the same two teams each year would be to shake up the playoff matchups. Instead of the traditional matchup, which is the top seed versus the bottom seed, maybe make the top two teams play, and have the bottom teams play. It’s not perfect, but at least there is a playoff.

I’m not trying to attack anyone at the RIIL. I understand the state’s frustration when seeing the same two teams every year. But the changes made in my opinion have failed, and should be revisited at the conclusion of 2018.

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