Heller: Flawed system taking steam out of season - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Heller: Flawed system taking steam out of season

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Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 4:56 pm | Updated: 11:04 pm, Fri Oct 21, 2011.

This is supposed to be the tense time of year in high school football. Two weeks left in the regular season, and, with a new scheduling and playoff structure, all the ecstasy and agony of trying to decipher who is going to make it. Who's going to move up or down? Who's going to fall on its face?

There's no shortage of East Valley teams interested in, or needing to, bubble-watch these next two weeks, especially in Division I and Division III.

But here we are, lacking a little enthusiasm, as if there's already a sense of resignation that schools will be left out that probably shouldn't be. Other schools will get in that probably shouldn't, and this whole new playoff system needs tweaking.

Many want two automatic bids from each section instead of three, and all the while nobody seems to know why sections even exist since everyone plays a disproportionate number of intra-section games.

Maybe it's a little sour grapes. Maybe it's genuinely unfair. Maybe it's because the regular season is concluding and it's still 95 degrees outside.

All of that depends on whom you ask. Even though nobody asked yours truly, a couple automatic bids plus a selection committee of coaches and athletic directors similar to New Mexico looks more and more appealing.

This scheduling system was based on geography, except Brophy doesn't play Phoenix Central and Perry doesn't play Campo Verde, Williams Field or Higley. Those schools are all a division lower than Perry (Division II), so it makes sense to play your own division - except the Pumas played Apache Junction, Poston Butte and Casa Grande Vista Grande (all Div. III).

Pumas coach Preston Jones doesn't get it. Most of his peers don't either.

Mesquite is clobbering the rest of Division I in strength of schedule (284 opponents victory points, 30 points ahead of Phoenix Sandra Day O'Connor. Even Hamilton's brutal schedule is way behind Mesquite). The Wildcats (3-5 and No. 17) played Hamilton, Chandler, Desert Vista, Red Mountain, Chaparral, Glendale Deer Valley and Gilbert, and might not make the playoffs. Matt Gracey's team beat a good Red Mountain team, but lost to rival Gilbert. They know that loss will forever loom if they don't get in.

"There are a couple teams I would love to see if we got in," said Mesquite coach Matt Gracey, who could rant for hours on these subjects. "A couple teams I would LOVE to see. I think that would open some eyes in the offices over there about just how bone-headed the system is. It's ridiculous. You can't do this. It's not fair to the kids, and it's not fair to a certain group of schools. It's just not right."

Meanwhile - and this is a huge point of contention among coaches Valleywide - the Yuma schools play each other twice, and, with a couple exceptions, never play a Valley school. They're scooping up those automatic bids.

You can't punish Tucson and Yuma schools, almost all of which aren't allowed to travel per school district orders in order to save money.

Those kids deserve a shot at the playoff spot just as everyone else does. It's a far more realistic achievement than winning a state championship.

That's where two automatic bids would help. So, too, would opening up the chance for schools to appeal and move down in division placement based on competition. That will almost certainly be at least discussed for the following two-year block, and it should include all sports.

About three schools currently in Division I, Section I can compete with other Division I schools. Nobody believes Phoenix schools like Maryvale and Carl Hayden, or Yuma schools Cibola or Kofa (all of which are Division I based on enrollment) should be playing East Valley or West Valley schools in Division I.

For a lucky few, however, it's a good thing they are, because all the East Valley schools enraged about difficult schedules played a sweepstakes to schedule those schools because they felt desperate for easy power points.

Higley beat Carl Hayden in the season opener for 60 points (50 points for victory and 10 more points for beating a team two divisions above the Knights).

"It's frustrating to have some schools playing each other twice," Higley coach Eddy Zubey said. I definitely think we are a top-16 team (Division III) and if we don't get in it's a real shame."

Last year, Zubey took St. Mary's to the Div. I playoffs despite a 4-6 record. This year, Zubey is at Higley, which is on the bubble. The Knights need to beat Casa Grande and Arcadia to finish 7-3 and move off the bubble.

Injury-plagued Paradise Valley (No. 18) is 4-4 and in a virtual tie with Saguaro for most opponent victory points in Div. III. Yet the Trojans - who beat Phoenix Thunderbird and barely lost to Peoria Liberty and Peoria Sunrise Mountain - are in the large gridlock with Higley, Peoria, Campo Verde and Sahuarita for those final spots.

"I know many, many veteran coaches are beside themselves with these sections and three teams (automatically) get in," P.V. coach Donnie Yantis said. "When you don't play each other it doesn't make any sense.

"Doesn't this mean the top 16 teams won't all get into the playoffs? Isn't that what the playoffs should be about? Why have sections?

"I think we're all frustrated. The divisions are a good thing and 3-7 or 4-6 doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs, but there's no reason for sections because you're playing teams out of your section that you can't control anyways.

"Why three teams when we're not playing most of those three teams?"

All are good, confounding, questions. Many of which are likely to be explored and revisited for the next two-year block.

These changes are a leap in the right direction. Some obvious flaws need to be addressed, but that doesn't help anyone now, next week or next month, and the knowledge that worthy teams won't last is depressing in what should be the most exciting part of the football season.


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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]