League champions now get an automatic berth, lower play-ins eliminated

Some big changes have been made to the state playoff qualifications and while it’s different for 5A and 4A teams, there does seem to be more equity and common sense in them.

It’s pretty much the same type of playoff in those classifications for all sports but there are some deadlines that are different. Let’s just talk football to make it easier to SELF-PORTRAIT - Sports Editor John Brewington

In the 5A classification that St. Helens is in now the rankings will be frozen on Oct. 27. The top eight teams in the rankings get an automatic berth in the first round of the state tournament. They will have a bye week. Teams ranked ninth through 24th (16 teams) will then be involved in the “play-in round” with games to be played on or before Nov. 3. The ninth-ranked team will play the 24th ranked team, presumably at the field of the No. 9 team (or perhaps a turf field they agree upon). If a team that wins their league is not ranked in the top 24, then they will replace the No. 24 team. That would be highly unlikely, but it is possible.

The winners of those eight games then play the top eight teams the following week, seeded by rankings—No. 1 hosting the lowest ranked team remaining.

It will knock a number of teams out from the old format, 15 in all, but there won’t be teams playing in games that no one really wants to see.

It’s almost but not quite a throwback to the time when the top three teams in a league made the playoffs and the No. 2-and No. 3 teams played in the first round.

The rankings are determined by a number of factors, but most notably a team’s winning percentage, the winning percentage of their opponents, and the winning percentage of the opponent’s opponents. It heavily rewards teams who play teams with winning records and doesn’t reward those that play teams with poorer records. The only rub on that is that teams don’t have a choice about playing teams, weak or strong, in their league.

It’s a very similar system for volleyball and soccer playoffs, but deadline dates for freezing the rankings are different, and the playoff schedule usually goes more quickly.

The 4A system is also similar, but it rewards league champions quite a bit more that the 5A does. Under the 4A classification, the seven league champions each get a berth in the state playoffs. The eighth team comes from the highest ranked No. 2 team from the league or hybrid league team. This means a league with two very good teams, could get both right into the state playoffs.

The system is quite different from 5A for the other teams. The No. 2 teams from each of the seven leagues, plus the next highest ranked No. 3 team (or hybrid) get home berths for a play-in round. They’ll face the next eight highest ranked No. 3 or hybrid teams, traveling to the play-in games.

When all the eight play-in games have been played, the winners will play the eight teams that received a bye. It’s unclear whether the first eight are guaranteed a home game but in the past, home games go to the higher ranked teams. The top team by ranking would get the lowest ranked team from the play-ins. The home field would probably only become an issue for the middle teams.

All in all both the plans for 5A and 4A teams seem more fair than they have been for the past couple of years.

It’s a little unnerving not to be able to project who the playoff foes for the first eight are going to be, but coaches will have to make their best guess for scouting, possibly covering at least a couple of games.

If you’re wondering how the plans can be so different, remember that the OSAA only sets playoff from the first round. The play-ins are the purview of each classification. Representatives of those teams establish the play-in system.

Note that the 6A classification has a completely different system. It’s a 32-team bracket with 22 teams automatically getting berths. Another 20 teams play in 10 games to determine the 10 teams filling out the bracket. Pairings are by rankings.

It’s been clear that the system would require tweaking every year after the reclassification two years ago. It will probably continue through next year but it’s also clear there is a strong movement to revamp the entire system once again over the next year for the 2014-15 season. There will be no more 6A class, dropping everything back to five classifications. Once that happens, the playoff system will also have to be revamped again.

At least it give sportswriters something to contemplate every year.

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