For football, a new class could be in session

Column by Jim Benton
Posted 12/26/18

A new year is approaching and a change could be imminent for the Colorado High School Activities Association’s big-school football playoffs. CHSAANow.com reported that administrators from large …

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For football, a new class could be in session


A new year is approaching and a change could be imminent for the Colorado High School Activities Association’s big-school football playoffs.

CHSAANow.com reported that administrators from large schools around the state have proposed a plan creating a 6A bracket for the state playoffs that could help with the inequity in the Class 5A playoffs.

According to CHSAANow.com, a total of 12 teams have made the 5A quarterfinals since 2014 and five programs have made it to the quarters all five seasons. Two other schools have advanced to the quarters four of five seasons and two others have gone three times in five seasons.

This is in contrast to 4A, where one team has been a quarterfinalist the past five years.

One idea that will be considered, and one that I like, is all teams would be 5A during the regular season and no league changes would be required.

At the end of the regular season, teams that finish first through eighth in the 5A RPI rankings would go into a 6A bracket for the playoffs and teams 9-24 would be in a 5A bracket and play for the state championship.

The details of the selection criteria need to be resolved, but the new Composite Ranking System recommended for seeding by the football committee could be used. That system employs four data sources: RPI, MaxPreps rankings, Packard rankings and a coaches’ poll.

Jim Thyfault, executive director of athletics and activities for Jeffco Public Schools, was one of the administrators in the meeting who discussed the new 6A playoff bracket idea, along with several other items.

“Due to traveling to meetings and conferences the past couple weeks, we have not been able to meet specifically with our coaches,” he said. “We will be taking a hard look at this idea once we return from the holiday break. There are other factors to this as well, like the 2A, 3A and 4A wanting a bottom-10 league also that we need to consider. As a district, it is important that we maintain a big picture view and not just get focused on 8-10 teams.”

Smoky Hill this season was undefeated and won the 5A bottom 10 League created for struggling football schools that ranked low in the RPI standings. Smoky Hill qualified for the state playoffs in 2018 after winning a combined eight games in five seasons.

The football committee will continue to debate the idea and get input from the membership before anything is proposed for the future classification system to the Legislative Council for approval in April.

“It is a step in the right direction,” said ThunderRidge coach Doug Nisenson, who has rebuilt the Grizzlies’ program after a couple down seasons. “We are going to have to try things that not everyone sees as the perfect solution if we want to truly fix the problems facing 5A football. The perfect solution to one school is not to another so there will always have to be compromise. I do think it is a fair argument that it will not fix the main problems with 5A football, but it is a start.”

In last season’s 5A playoffs, 24 teams made the bracket, with the top eight seeds getting first-round byes. Just to show the difference in programs, the average margin of victory in first-round games was 18.5 points.

With the top eight teams playing in the second round, that average victory margin soared to 32.5 points. The quarterfinals had a 16.5 average victory margin and the semifinals were the most competitive and entertaining with the two games decided by five points.

Many coaches favor the new idea.

Castle View won one game in 2017 but was seeded 14th in the 2018 playoffs. The Sabercats won a first-round game but lost to state runner-up Cherry Creek, 41-14, in the second round.

“The last 10 years, 5A football has been dominated by five or six schools,” said Castle View coach Todd Casebier. “This trend isn’t going to be changing anytime soon. I think this is a great idea.

“I love the idea that other teams will have an opportunity to play in the final four or beyond. If you take out the dominant schools, the majority of 5A is similar. We can have a great 16-team playoff and the dominant teams will play each other just as they do now. Football in Colorado will get better because of competitive balance. The year any of us have a special team, we will have a chance to play in the 6A playoffs.”

ThunderRidge was seeded eighth, got a first-round bye and edged Fairview in the second round before losing to state champion Valor Christian, 30-17, in the quarterfinals.

“I do think it is a fair argument that it (new idea) will not fix the main problems with 5A football, but it is a start,” added Nisenson.

There are skeptics who say there will be variables because of injured players returning and teams possibly wanting to avoid the dominant teams.

If a team is ranked eighth heading into the final week, it could be better not to go all out and maybe slip in the rankings to get a high seed in the 5A playoffs instead of going in eighth in the 6A bracket and having to face Valor Christian or another powerful opponent.

“I know we would never do that but some team might,” said Casebier. “I think it would be cool to be in the top eight and something we would hope to achieve.”

Nisenson doesn’t buy the idea that coaches would tank a game to stay in the 5A playoffs.

“Seniors only get 10 regular-season games and I don’t see coaches or players being willing to sacrifice one of those,” he said. “I also do not agree with the argument that this format would make the 5A champion the ninth place team. We do not look at the 4A champion as the 41st place team.

“The seven and eight seeds in the proposed 6A playoffs are not going to be in any different position than they are now. Yes, they may lose in round one or two instead of maybe winning the 5A championships but this is still something that can help build and sustain a program. In terms of what a program looks like from the outside to student athletes who are picking and choosing where they will play, it is a positive to be seen as a 6A playoff team.”

Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at jbenton@coloradocommunitymedia.com or at 303-566-4083.

Jim Benton


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