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JACOBSON: Leave football playoff format alone

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Tight end Riley Hurley celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday of the Spartans' 48-24 victory over Antioch in the first round of the IHSA Class 5A playoffs in Sycamore.

There’s nothing quite like high school playoff football.

Except when the games seem so much like the frequent mismatches we see so often during the first nine weeks of the season.

Last weekend’s playoff games didn’t exactly provide much fourth-quarter drama for prep football fans as an amazing 80 of 128 first-round playoff matchups were determined by 20-plus points. Included in that total were a whopping 47 games that featured 30-plus point margins of victory and 19 that were decided by 40-plus points.

We can only guess at how many featured a running clock, instituted by the IHSA to keep scores from getting too out of hand.

Yet even though the first round of the playoffs showcased far more blowouts than upsets or close calls, school administrators continue to push for the expansion of the football postseason, which now includes 256 teams out of the 575 schools participating.

One proposal calls for doubling the playoff brackets to include 64 teams a class. Another wants to expand to 56, with the top eight teams in each class getting a first-round bye.

The basic rationale for these proposals is the inclusion of more teams into the playoffs.

After all, every other IHSA sport except football gives schools automatic entry into the postseason.

But in order to keep the fall schedule on track, these proposals suggest eliminating Week 9 of the regular season.

Ask DeKalb and Genoa-Kingston, who both entered Week 9 at 4-4, how they would classify their final games this season. If either team lost, they weren’t playing the next week. If they won, they moved on to the postseason.

Sounds like a de facto playoff game to me.

The state football playoffs have already been watered down enough through the expansion to eight classes in 2001.

Comparing Illinois with its larger state brethren, California will crown five state champions and Texas, with more than twice the population of Illinois, has 10 divisions. New York holds five state championships and Florida, with roughly six million more people, also has eight classes.

The IHSA needs to leave the playoff format alone. Sure, make necessary tweaks in the classification formula, geographical groupings and the process of how to seed teams to make the brackets as fair as possible, but don’t change the overall structure.

The actual playoffs should be reserved for those teams with a winning record, and right now that’s exactly the case. Most teams with a 5-4 record make the playoffs with the few exceptions of those teams that don’t play a tough enough schedule.

Some first-round playoff mismatches not withstanding, the football playoffs are perfectly fine as they are.

More is not always better. Indeed, there can be too much of a good thing.

Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at rjacobson@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.

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