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Too many champions-commentary

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The dividing of AA for the playoffs is wrong on many levels

By Mike Forster

  What should be an exciting time of year on the high school scene has been turned into a big heap o’ confusion.

Hoping to double-up everyone’s esteem, the VHSL has determined that there will now be two state champions at the AA level.

In fairness, the VHSL did not decree this new setup.  The subcommittee on playoffs did so.  This group consists of principals and ADs from member schools.  

I spoke with Mike McCall, spokesman for the VHSL.  He told me that the primary driver in the decision was to level the playing field.  He cited the fact that 80 of the 125 championships in the past 5 years in AA were won by larger schools.

Let me try to explain how this new system works, using the Seminole District and Region III as examples.

The Seminole consists of seven schools.  Region III is made up of four districts and includes 20 schools, in all.

In previous years, the top four teams from the Seminole (the regular season champ plus the top three finishers in the tournament) would go into Regional play.

The other three districts in Region III would send a combined 8 teams, for a total of 12.

The top two teams to emerge from the Region III bracket moved on to state play.

The winner of that 8-team foray would be crowned with the state AA title.

This year, the Seminole will still send four teams into regional play.  However, it won’t necessarily be the top teams from the District tournament.

Huh?  

Let me (try to) explain.

We now have a district that consists of Division 3 and Division 4 schools.  School population size determines the division designation.  The larger schools—Amherst, JF, Heritage and Staunton River—are Division 4.

The smaller schools—Brookville, Liberty and Rustburg—are Division 3.

Once the Seminole tournament ends, those Div. 3 member schools will never again see their Div. 4 counterparts.  Instead, they will shuffle down the Div. 3 tourney path.

This is wrong on so many levels. I’ll focus, however, only on the low-hanging fruit.

There is the possibility of the sixth best team in the District moving onto regional play while the third best sits home.  That scenario would play out if all the Div. 4 teams finished ahead of all the Div. 3 teams. 

If this system had been in place last year, the Rustburg boys’ team would have stayed home, despite their third place finish.  That’s because Brookville and Liberty (fellow Div. 3 schools) finished ahead of the third-place Red Devils.  

One of our local coaches told me that the new system dilutes the meaning of a championship.  “If we were ever in a position to win a championship, I’d want it for all AA, not half,” said this coach.

Look at what happened in football, which has the Div 3/Div 4 split.  Both Amherst and Brookville played in the state title games, and it wasn’t against each other.

On the one hand, it gave me a great feeling of pride that the Seminole had sent TWO teams to title games

On the other hand, I felt there was something amiss in seeing a team that didn’t even win its own district play for a state championship.

Certainly, there is a financial motive at work here.  The more playoff games that take place, the greater the take at the gate.  Individual schools, as well as the VHSL benefit.

We have smart fans across the state.  They know what is meaningful and what is meaningless.

I saw football playoff games played in front of half-empty bleachers.  Why?  Folks didn’t want to shell out six bucks a head to see a 3-7 team.  That’s why.

I also believe that the playoff dilution spills over into the regular season.  People figure that their team is going to make the playoffs, irrespective of what they do in the regular season.  Hence, those 20+ games leading up to the playoffs are fairly meaningless, in the minds of many.

As my old man used to tell me, don’t complain if you don’t have a solution.  Here it is:

1.  Knock off this Div. 3 and Div. 4 nonsense.  Go back to AA.  Period.

2.  In basketball, the most any District can send to Regionals is two:  the regular season champ and the tournament champ.  You win both?  Congrats, you just got yourself a bye in the first round of Regions.

3.  The VHSL gets nothing from the gate.  Instead,  in order to help defray VHSL costs, each school is assessed a levy based on the number of sports in which it participates.

Let’s stop the dilution and give the fans something to get excited about.  Give the kids a tougher challenge.

This change is being sold under the guise of giving more athletes a chance at state glory.  Poppycock.  

If that is the case, why is it only being done in football and basketball?  Even I can figure out that it’s because those are the only sports that can earn bucks for the VHSL.