If it's political season, it's time for simplistic, short-sighted cries of "flip-flopper" and "he voted for it before he voted against it."
This spring, a News reporter wrote that the new Section VI playoff format was a bad one, and now he likes it! This is outrageous!
Here's the column I wrote on May 6 -- the headline was "New format deflates football" [with some annotation in brackets by a trusted arbiter ... me]:
The best thing about Section VI high school football has been that every league game was of utmost importance. It was very much like college football -- if you lost a game early, you may have doomed yourself for the postseason. The battles between the best teams in each division were anticipated all year because the survivor would make it to the playoffs, and often the loser would not.
[Still feel that way, actually.]
Not next season.
The 2008 Section VI football schedule is out, and it's a little shorter than usual.
That's because the regular season has been reduced from eight weeks to seven, while the playoffs have been expanded from two weeks to three. So instead of having four teams per class qualifying for a two-week playoff, a three-week postseason will now include eight teams per class.The biggest problem with the new format is that in the large school classes (AA and A), eight of the 12 teams will make the playoffs. Instead of having teams scratch and claw their way in trying to fight for the top two spots in each division, four teams -- out of six -- will get in. We're going from a regular season in which the two best teams in each division are determined to one set up to weed out the two worst. Lose an early game? No big deal.
[Actually, it did turn out to be a big deal. Like I wrote today, ask Frontier about losing to Jamestown. I also underestimated how spicy the crossover battles would be, and how there would be -- and still is, heading into Week Seven -- some decent battles for league titles, seeding and home-field advantage].
In Class C, eight of 13 teams make the playoffs. Half of the teams in Class B and D (16 teams) will advance. Not as glaring as the large schools, but still quite a difference from years past.
The total number of teams "earning" a trip to the playoffs has doubled from 20 to 40. There are 69 schools playing football in Section VI. That means 58 percent of the teams make the playoffs (if you're wondering, that's a higher percentage than the everyone-makes-the-playoffs NBA and NHL).
[That 58 percent is better than other sports' open tournaments, I suppose. Comparing the numbers to pro sports was probably a little much -- my point was that some small-minded sports fans seem to be dog the NBA and NHL for having everyone make it; in reality, that's not true. Ask last year's Sabres].
Supporters of the new format will likely point to other high school sports, in which all the teams make the sectionals in an open tournament.
[Hey, I just pointed to that!]
That's why football was so great. The sport with the fewest contests really made them count.
Chuck Funke, Section VI football chairman, said there wasn't any opposition to the new format.
"Our coaches said to their chairmen that, 'We want more people in the playoffs, for more people to have that kind of postseason experience,' " Funke said.
[At the time, I saw that as a dopey sentiment, like "Awwww... won't it be nice if more teams get to be in a playoff game even if they don't deserve it?" But this season's several great stories of turnaround teams which would not have made the playoffs under the old format have definitely softened my stance -- like Williamsville South, Jamestown, Allegany-Limestone and West Seneca East (which may or may not end up in second-place).]
We're also talking about coaches who vote on league all-star teams that get bigger and bigger each year, diluting something that is supposed to be about "the best." On last year's Class AA all-star teams, one of the six-team divisions had 30 first-teamers and the other had 29 (The Buffalo News' All-Western New York team has 25 on the first team). Both divisions named not one Player of the Year, not co-Players of the Year, but four (a pair of co-Offensive and co-Defensive Players of the Year).
[Still true. The all-star teams for football are pretty outrageous.]
Sure, the new playoff system will eliminate the headaches of third-place teams that were oh-so-close, and the heartache of such squads that may have been better than the second-place teams in the other division.
[Great examples for both the former (the three top teams in B South, top four top teams in AA South) and the latter (AA South is better than AA North; Will South has beaten two contenders for second place in A South.]
And sure, the playoffs will be exciting, and perhaps those first-round crossover games (third-place teams traveling to second-place teams from the opposite division) will provide some good matchups. And second place will certainly be worth fighting for in order to get that home field advantage.
[At least I got that stuff right ... although I smell a "but" coming ... ]
But the bottom line is that if you missed out on the playoffs in past seasons, you did so because you lost important games during the regular season. Injuries? Bad bounce? Sorry, if you didn't win, you didn't get in.
I'm not saying teams aren't going to play hard. But there's no mistaking that the intensity on the field and the electricity in the stands at regular-season matchups will be turned down a notch because there's less on the line. Remember those must-see games during the season? The ones that would impact who would have even a chance at going to The Ralph? Not a must anymore.
[I turned out that we had plenty of great games. It's inarguable that last season's games meant more. They did. But the must-see matchups remained just that.]
[Although, if I could make a point to disagree with myself disagreeing with myself: Sweet Home's results early on, and Iroquois' results of late, have left a lot of people wanting more, as if we don't know if we've seen their best performances yet. It's possible that those two programs, who are used to winning, didn't have the same intensity that they'll have in a few weeks. We'll definitely have that answer in the playoffs, so maybe the best analysis will be after the entire season is complete.]
We'll have a regular season with fewer games which are of less importance. And yes, there will be more teams getting a playoff trip, but half of those first-rounders will feature first-place powerhouses hosting fourth-place teams.
[True again, but the other half will feature games between teams seeded 2 and 3, which appear to be quite compelling in many cases, so it might be a wash.]
Here's another bad bounce: For large schools, the schedule consists of five league games and two nonleaguers, one of which is often a rivalry game. That leaves little flexibility for nonleaguers. In 2008, you'll find only one Monsignor Martin-Section VI meeting: St. Joe's at North Tonawanda in Week Six.
I've often said: Until the very best large schools from Section VI and Monsignor Martin play each other, high school football in Western New York will never be as good as it could be.
And it looks like I'll keep saying it.
[Amen, brother. At least you didn't change your mind about that. Despite the new format, there is still plenty of room in the schedule for more Section VI-MMA games.]