Playoff Time: E=mc2 and ð R2 (Even Though Most Pies I Like Are Round)
By Dave Pickren
November 1, 2001
Well it is hard to believe that the season has passed by so quickly and now all the talk is about the playoffs and the points and quantitative statistical analytical mathematics or something like that. Once again the topic has turned to our much maligned playoff system and the gross inadequacies of the whole system.
In Class 4A we are stuck with a point system that has little to do with actual wins and losses and more to do with how many students your opponent has enrolled and how their opponents have played during the season. I find it amazing that the SCHSL has developed a system which awards more points for playing a team with a winning record in every class except for the Class 4A Division 2 teams where it makes no difference where there opponent's record finishes. The winning versus losing record is important for 157 of the 189 teams but not for the 32 teams in Class 4A that is directly affects.
Equally amazing is the fact that teams with 8-2 records are sweating out the playoffs because of a system that rewards more points for playing Big 16 teams. Region 5 is without any Big 16 schools and suffers a 2.5 point deficit to schools like Byrnes and Walterboro that have larger schools in their region and close geographical proximity to other large schools. Dorman will finish 10-1 this season and will still finish in the point system behind a potential 9-2 Northwestern team strictly because Dorman played 4A Greenwood and 3A Daniel instead of Big 16 teams Spring Valley and Irmo. Traditionally, who would you rather play? But the 2 victories for Dorman are only worth 8.0 points while Northwestern received 9.0 point for beating the Big 16 teams.
The whole thing has gotten silly.
Back in 1980 when the Big 16 playoffs were first proposed and sub sequentially introduced, there was a large discrepancy between the haves and the have nots in high school football. From the first playoffs in 1968 until 1980, every state champion in Class 4A was among the Top 6 schools in enrollment size. The only exception was Eastside's run to the title in 1977. Also from 1968 until 1980, the larger schools took 88% of the playoff spots. Programs like Spartanburg, Summerville, Irmo and Spring Valley were talented teams with great coaches and players but they also enjoyed triple the enrollment numbers over many of their rivals.
At the same time coaches began to realize that a playoff appearance looked good on the ole resume regardless of how it was achieved and the process was set to expand the playoffs to two divisions encompassing 32 teams and two separate champions.
Immediately the system was found full of flaws. With the largest 16 schools qualifying regardless of performance, the possibility arose that a winless team would make the playoffs. It only took two seasons for that to occur when the old Charleston High Bantams took a 0-11 record into the playoffs to face Irmo. The score was only 35-0 in favor of the Yellow Jackets but the stage was set for many lopsided match ups in the years to come.
For the most part the Big 16 playoffs have allowed the smaller schools a chance to win a title without becoming first round fodder for the big school. The larger schools with winning programs were simply too strong for the smaller schools but all that changed in 1994. The Berkeley Stags behind an overwhelming offense that averaged over 40 points a game went unchallenged to the Division 2 championship and a 15-0 record.
Meanwhile Spartanburg, behind future NFL defensive star Anthony Simmons, ran through the Big 16 playoffs including a classic rematch with Dorman at Clemson's Death Valley to win the title. I remember watching the Big 16 title match in Clemson and then hurrying back to Columbia to see the 4A match up. I would have paid anything to see the Vikings and Stags line it up on the field to determine which team was the better 4A club but the season ended and both went down as champions, at least on paper.
Now here we are in 2001 and the same argument and discussions are occurring 20 years after the advent of the Big 16.
It could be argued that for the first time in 20 years, Division 2 is stronger that the Big 16. It is without a doubt that D2 is deeper and that the playoffs in D2 will feature better games particularly in the early rounds. This year will showcase exciting games with championship caliber teams facing elimination in the first round.
The Big 16 however has developed its own schism and the gap between the haves and have nots is larger than ever. Last season, first round playoff games in the Big 16 were decided by an average of 33 points. The powerhouses consider the first round just an excuse to open the gate and make a little money. Stratford, Dorman, Northwestern and Spartanburg will play first round games and each will win by double digits. The Big 16 will actually begin the real playoffs in week 2.
So imagine if you will what the playoffs would be like if there were no free passes and only 16 teams made the dance. Imagine what the regular season games this past week would have meant to the schools involved. Irmo would have moved closer to clinching a spot by beating Lexington and the Wildcats would be in danger of not making the post season. Likewise Rock Hill would be in trouble with its lost to Dorman. The final week would see 2 huge games in Region 3 as Lexington, Irmo, Aiken and North Augusta would be battling for the playoff spots. Dorman would not be worried about the points and the seed but hoping for a Region championship and the home field advantage. All over the state, games would take on added importance as winners would move to playoffs and losers would pack the gear until next spring.
If only the region champs and runner ups as well as 2 wild card teams