High School Sports

Football playoff system receives mixed reviews in first year

VarsityKansas Big Show with South High coach Kevin Steiner

Taylor Eldridge sits down with South High football coach Kevin Steiner for the VarsityKansas Big Show. (video by Jaime Green / October 18, 2016)
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Taylor Eldridge sits down with South High football coach Kevin Steiner for the VarsityKansas Big Show. (video by Jaime Green / October 18, 2016)

When the decision was made to eliminate district play in Class 6A and 5A football, in favor of an eight-game schedule with all 16 teams in a region competing for seeding, coaches knew the system would be different.

They appreciate how every game counts now, as opposed to the former system where only the final three games mattered. It has raised the stakes for Friday’s final regular-season games and injected even more drama with 16 playoff seeds up for grabs.

Now coaches aren’t checking the score of one other game — some will be checking as many as five results after their games on Friday.

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“It’s going to be a little crazy, but the cool thing about it is there’s a lot of big games at the end of the season,” Goddard coach Scott Vang said. “Everybody is going to be keeping an eye on those games, but we know we have to take care of our business first before we can start looking.”

Several coaches said the new system, which determines seeds by winning percentage and breaks those ties with a margin-of-victory system, has changed how they coach — especially in the second halves of games.

“It used to be when you were up 14 or 21 late in the game, you start subbing your JV kids in,” Andover coach Tony Crough said. “Now you feel like you have to get up by 28 or 35 before you can do that.”

It’s easy to tell now how important the tiebreaker, which will be used on ties of more than two teams or teams that haven’t played each other, will be in determining seedings. But in the first few weeks, some coaches weren’t thinking about the rule.

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Northwest coach Steve Martin looks back on Northwest’s Week 1 win over Bishop Carroll, 61-49, when he decided to kneel the ball near Carroll’s goal line in the final minute. Martin said it was the right thing to do to show respect to the opponent.

But a few weeks later, when it became apparent Northwest would need points to bolster its playoff seeding, Martin decided to chase a late touchdown in a 56-35 victory over Kapaun Mount Carmel to gain the maximum 21 points credited to the playoff standings.

“I consider coach (Dan) Adelhardt a good friend and I felt like crap going in to score in the final three minutes like that,” Martin said. “That should have been a 14-point game, but I have coaches in my ear telling me we need to score so we can 21-point someone. I don’t like that. I think it’s going to lead to some hard feelings down the line.”

Crough looks back on Andover’s schedule and sees missed opportunities — not in losses, but in wins. That seems backwards to him because they still resulted in Andover victories. But in this new system, not all victories are equal.

“I know a couple of games we felt like we had a chance to win a little bigger and now those games are going to come back and bite us at the end,” Crough said. “That’s just the rules of the new system and the cards you’re dealt. It used to be this way for three games of the year, now it’s like that every game.”

Many coaches pointed out a flaw they perceive in the system is how a team like Valley Center is ahead of Goddard in the 5A West standings after Goddard defeated Valley Center 49-7 last Friday.

In the new system, head-to-head results are rendered meaningless if there is a tie between more than two teams and they haven’t played all other tied teams. Two other teams are tied with Valley Center and Goddard at 6-1, meaning Goddard could potentially win Friday by 21 points over Newton and still finish behind Valley Center if the Hornets maintain their point advantage while beating Andover and one of the other teams also finishes 7-1 to create a three-way tie.

“Right now I’m not incredibly ecstatic about how the system is working out because we’re behind Valley and I think that’s a flaw in the system,” Vang said. “I know there’s no perfect way to do it and there’s always going to be an issue, but it’s frustrating to win a game like that and then still be ranked behind them. It doesn’t seem like it should work that way.”

For all of the issues coaches have with the tiebreaker, many coaches found the new way of determining the playoff bracket to be more exciting.

There appears to be the potential for more competitive first-round matchups among middle seeds. And every first-round winner will have to play a difficult second-round game.

A good example would be Northwest, which could potentially see a team like Topeka in the first round with the winner likely meeting Derby in the second round.

“I think it’s going to make the playoffs a lot more exciting because you’re going to get some great playoff matchups,” Martin said. “The way I look at it is that you’re going to have to beat the great teams at some point anyway. Would I like to play Derby in the semis? Sure, but you’re going to have to beat them sometime.”

Taylor Eldridge: 316-268-6270, @vkeldridge

6A, 5A football standings

CLASS 6A WEST

School

W-L

Pts.

1t. Derby

7-0

147

1t. Manhattan

7-0

131

1t. Garden City

7-0

130

4t. Hutchinson

6-1

103

4t. Junction City

6-1

85

6. Free State

5-2

84

7t. Washburn Rural

4-3

44

7t. Wichita South

4-3

37

7t. Wichita Northwest

4-3

32

7t. Topeka

4-3

27

7t. Dodge City

4-3

17

12. Campus

3-4

-18

13t. Wichita West

2-5

-49

13t. Wichita East

2-5

-81

15. Wichita Southeast

1-6

-84

16. Wichita North

0-7

-147

CLASS 6A EAST

School

W-L

Pts.

1. Blue Valley

7-0

126

2. SM East

6-1

120

3t. Lawrence

5-2

63

3t. SM West

5-2

42

5t. SM North

4-3

28

5t. BV North

4-3

20

7. Gardner-Edgerton

3-4

-54

8. KC Wyandotte

2-4

-49

9t. Olathe Northwest

2-5

-12

9t. Olathe East

2-5

-43

9t. BV Northwest

2-5

-47

9t. Olathe South

2-5

-54

9t. BV West

2-5

-83

9t. Olathe North

2-5

-94

15. SM Northwest

1-6

-110

16. SM South

0-7

-126

CLASS 5A WEST

School

W-L

Pts.

1. Great Bend

7-0

123

2t. Wichita Heights

6-1

104

2t. Valley Center

6-1

95

2t. Goddard

6-1

85

2t. Maize

6-1

66

6t. Carroll

5-2

47

6t. Andover

5-2

43

8. Liberal

4-3

7

9t. Emporia

3-4

-35

9t. Arkansas City

3-4

-40

11t. Kapaun

2-5

-20

11t. Eisenhower

2-5

-78

13t. Newton

1-6

-97

13t. Topeka West

1-6

-117

15t. Salina Central

0-7

-123

15t. Salina South

0-7

-124

CLASS 5A EAST

School

W-L

Pts.

1t. KC Schlagle

6-1

105

1t. Topeka Seaman

6-1

60

3. St. Thomas Aquinas

5-2

63

4t. Pittsburg

4-3

21

4t. Lansing

4-3

2

6t. Mill Valley

3-4

-10

6t. KC Turner

3-4

-41

6t. St. James Academy

3-4

-44

9. KC Sumner

2-4

-49

10t. Shawnee Heights

2-5

-19

10t. KC Washington

2-5

-59

10t. Bonner Springs

2-5

-67

13t. BV Southwest

1-6

-55

13t. Leavenworth

1-6

-63

15. KC Harmon

0-6

-99

16. Highland Park

0-7

-126

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