Last season the playoff structure in Classes 6A and 5A was drastically changed.
Teams played an eight-game regular season, then were seeded in 16-team brackets in the east and west for each class. But what became the biggest adjustment was the 21-point tiebreaker system, which allowed teams to gain or lose up to 21 points based on the final scored each week.
“I don’t think anyone really thought about it too much at the start of the season,” Northwest coach Steve Martin said. “There’s still some coaches who don’t worry about it and think it will take care of itself. But I know the difference in being six, seven, or eight seed is huge. We saw it last year where if we had a couple more points, then we could have avoided playing Derby in the second round. I think coaches are going to be fully cognizant of it this time around.”
Coaches complained that the 21-point rule was in direct opposition to sportsmanship, and prevented them from developing depth.
“I consider coach (Dan) Adelhardt a good friend at Kapaun, but to get to 21 we had to score with two minutes left,” Martin said. “We should have taken a knee, but at Week 5 you start looking at the point totals and it’s something I was uncomfortable doing, but I felt like I had to do it.
“And then it doesn’t allow you to play kids that deserve to play because you’re worried about protecting a 21-point lead.”
Due to those concerns, the coaches agreed on a rule that drops the tiebreaker from 21 points to 13. The 13-point tiebreaker will be in effect for the 2017 season.
“The last thing anybody ever wants to do is keep putting points on the board when the game is basically over,” Andover coach Cade Armstrong said. “You don’t want to embarrass anybody, so I think them dropping it to 13 will keep the respect factor alive and then there’s no need to being the bully.”
The system also came under scrutiny last season when Valley Center was the No. 3 seed, one spot higher than Goddard thanks to a three-team tie with the same record and point differential that negated Goddard’s head-to-head victory over Valley Center (a 49-7 romp on Valley Center’s own turf).
“Goddard should have been ranked ahead of us, but you’re never going to have a perfect system,” Valley Center coach Caleb Smith said. “You want to get your best teams to the final eight and I think this system does that.”
KSHSAA assistant executive director Mark Lentz sees the potential of a repeat scenario.
“It could be a concern because you have that potential for even more ties when you drop it to 13,” Lentz said. “If that’s the case, then that’s the case. We’ll take a look at it again next year and see if there’s any changes that need to be made. We’re always looking to do what’s best and if that requires another change, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Lentz also mentioned the intrigue surrounding to the next cycle of scheduling coming up later this fall. Class 4A will also adopt the model beginning in the 2018 season.
“It will be interesting to see if this has a good effect or a bad effect on teams scheduling more difficult games,” Lentz said. “Some teams are going to want to play good teams to prepare them for the playoffs, but there are going to be other teams that don’t want to play certain teams because they don’t want to get beat by more than 13.”
The model is still in its infancy; the short- and long-term consequences of the rule change remain to be seen.
But the sentiment among many coaches is that the changes have been a positive.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to find the perfect system, but I think what we have right now is probably the best system we’ve ever had in Kansas,” Smith said. “It was a great system and then I think the move to 13 makes it even better.”