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Welcome to preps playoff time.
It is, in fact, the most welcoming time of the year. That’s because everyone is welcomed.
Every single preps baseball, softball and soccer team has a shot in the post-season. That’s because every single preps baseball, softball and soccer team is invited to the playoffs.
It is my firm conviction that this approach is not in anyone’s best interest.
Inclusiveness is nice as a concept. In practice, however, it can often send the message that rewards come cheaply.
Nonetheless, when Blue Ridge and Seminole District tourneys kicked off this Monday, there was nary a team playing the role of spectator. No matter how poor a season a team had, it got to play on Monday.
One year, a last-place team (Seminole) won its opener in the tourney. This team had gone 1-11 in the regular season. Afterwards, the coach told me that since the team had now made Regionals, it had met its start-of-season objective. Yikes!
What if college sports or the pros took the same approach?
It’s not too difficult to run that scenario. In the NFL, for instance, instead of the current 12-team playoff format, you’d see all 32 teams in the post-season hunt.
Last year, the first round had games that featured Green Bay vs. Philadelphia and the New York Jets vs. Indianapolis. Three of the four games in the first round were decided by five points or fewer.
In the expanded format, opening round games would likely have featured: New England (14-2) against Cincinnati (4-12) or Atlanta (13-3) vs. Carolina (2-14).
Don’t worry, folks, we’re never going to see those types of uneven matchups in the playoffs. Why? There are two reasons, both related to the fact that the NFL is run by some very smart suits.
First, said suits know that miserable matchups draw paltry television audiences and teeny stadium crowds. That would be a lost weekend (with apologies to Ray Milland).
Second, and of much greater importance, the NFL honchos understand that a 32-team playoff field would render the regular season meaningless to a large number of fans.
If every team was destined to make the playoffs, why would they try during the regular season?
In fact, many teams would rest their best players for substantial chunks of games, trying to keep them healthy and fresh for the playoff run.
Now, I’m not saying that high school teams sandbag it as a result of the playoff structure. What I am saying is that there is a marked lack of interest in the regular season because of that structure.
Granted, there is a good amount of enthusiasm around those few teams that were battling for a regular season title (JF girls soccer, JF baseball, Liberty softball).
For those that have things well in hand, such as the JF boys soccer team, or for those that are out of the running (everyone else in the County), there is little enthusiasm.
That lack of enthusiasm translates into smallish crowds at the games. That can’t be helpful to the psyche of the student-athletes.
My solution is pretty simple. The Seminole District, to use an example, should take the top four teams for its post-season extravaganza. Retain the rule that gives the top seed in Regionals to the regular season champ. Then have a four-team tourney to determine the remaining seeds.
Such a set-up is bound to make the regular season more meaningful.
Last week I picked a trifecta that had Dialed In, Astrology and Animal Kingdom.
You probably know by know that those three horses came in fourth, third and second, respectively.
Regrettably, the trifecta needs you to pick the first three horses, including the first place horse.
Picking the three that come in after the winner does you no good. So, if you’d played my hunch, you’d be short some money today. Hope you ignored me!