By Chris Brooks for The News Examiner
The first two games of the 2015 season sure were nice, weren’t they? If you’re 2-0, you’re loving life right now.
If you’re 0-2, it seems like the sky might be falling. If you’re 1-1, you’re not really sure.
But, here’s the thing … Those games were nice to have wins and stay injury-free, but losses in those games don’t ruin your season. What you did, or didn’t, do in the first two weeks is only the appetizer to the main course.
Station Camp and Westmoreland would no doubt want to see their 0-2 records reversed, but they’re still on even footing with everybody else in their respective regions for a little while longer.
Lose this first region game on Friday, and it will make a difference … possibly being the difference between playing on the first Friday of November or getting ready for basketball season instead.
Region play is all that matters in deciding which teams make the playoffs in the new system – which is simply the one the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) implemented for the 16 years prior to the past six years of the Z-plan.
I understood why the so-called Z-plan was scrapped. It took some work to decipher where potential playoff teams sat in the standings each week, but the system got one thing right – every game mattered. That’s where the current format goes wrong.
You could win a non-region game now by a 100-0 margin, and it wouldn’t make one bit of difference whether you made the playoffs or not.
Disclaimer: there is a scenario where the overall record serves as a tiebreaker, but three or more teams have to be tied with the same region record. Also, they all must have the same record against each other, which is not likely. Of course, now that I bring this up, it will probably happen out of spite.
Those non-region games – rivalry games excluded – don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. They’re good for the overall record, the bottom line and the stat line, but not a factor in the seed line you could be on come Nov. 6.
The ‘new’ system is easy to understand because it’s simple. If you finish fourth or better in your region, based solely on region record, and you’re in. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But we got away from this system the first time because of the very thing that’s going to happen again this year, and every year until somebody finds a way to alleviate this. Some team with a 2-8 record is going to reach the postseason because they won the “right” games and snuck into fourth place in a six-team region. Enough people made enough noise last time to affect change.
But think about it … a 7-3 team could theoretically miss the playoffs because it won two of its five region games, while a 3-7 team got in ahead of them with a better region record. Great for the 3-7 team, but it would have people howling for change again.
Mathematically, a 1-9 team could finish fourth in a six-team region and win some convoluted tiebreaker to qualify for the postseason, and that’s in a six-team region. There are five regions in the state consisting of only five teams. It’s bound to happen in one of those and fairly soon too.
Don’t get me started about Class 6A. There’s a chance that somebody will be in a playoff game with an 0-10 record. No, thank you.
In Division II, each team will participate in the playoffs as well. That’s not really necessary either. Go with six or eight teams and let it play out from there. But, hey, there’s money.
In larger regions, they’ve already played a region game or in some cases, two, but fourth place in a nine-team region is going to come from a team that’s likely won at least four region games, so it won’t be a big deal there.
However, that’s the system the TSSAA wanted. You know, the same organization that couldn’t make a decision on a potential public/private split after 17 months because … hey, they needed more time to do their homework before the test.
It’s going to be hard to find a system that truly works. The state’s geography makes it far too difficult to put teams in evenly-distributed regions without someone crying foul due to travel concerns, regional alignment, etc. But somebody needs to try. If it takes the full two years before reclassification comes along and possibly blows the whole thing up again, how about having a plan this time? For a small fee, I’ll do it.
In any event, let’s all go out on Friday night and celebrate the real opening night … call it the main course after the two-week appetizer we just had in non-region play.
The meat of the schedule starts this week. You have to start winning now in order to get any dessert come November.
Reach Chris Brooks at 615-575-7118 or follow him on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.
Region games by team
Pope John Paul II