So, with the prep playoffs now down to district championship games on Monday night, we ask the question … is it better?
Through 11 weeks of games, it’s certainly seemed to weed out the pretenders better than past systems. You don’t look at the state playoff brackets at this point and see an abundance of teams that might not belong in the “still playing football in November” category.
The only criticism, it seems, from some area coaches is redundancy.
Some of the really good teams who hail from the same conferences and same enrollment classifications are, well, at it again.
For example, Ozark and Nixa will square off again on Monday night, a district title at stake. It’s the Battle For Christian County, Part Deux.
Same for Lebanon and Camdenton. Who now get to really dislike each other, going forward, possibly two times per year.
Cassville coach David Large and his Wildcats are seeing double more than the rest, having played a team they’d already faced in the first seven weeks again in the three-round district “tournament” – East Newton, Seneca and coming up on Monday night, Monett again.
Now, some of these matchups, like the three mentioned above, you could probably play several times a season and it wouldn’t get old.
For now, anyway.
But … what about five or six years down the road? Is there a chance that the non-win or else game, the one that doesn’t send the loser scurrying off into basketball season, loses its luster?
“I agree 100 percent on that,” Lebanon coach Will Christian said. “This Lebanon-Camdenton rivalry is fierce … there’s some major dislike. We could probably play five times a year and I don’t know that it’s going to numb it much. But I think, with the potential of playing then again with this implication every year, that first one could become a little (less emotional). From the other standpoint, when we do meet with these implications on the line, it makes it even greater.”
Cassville’s Large says, “you’d always like to see somebody new, and that’s the biggest flaw. I think the Big Eight is a very good conference, but honestly, you’d kind of like to see some other schools (in the district tournament) just to see how you’d do against outside competition.”
Others, it doesn’t seem to phase as much. Nixa coach Rich Rehagen said of a second matchup with Ozark this season, “if it’s twice a year, then it’s twice a year. I know their guys are going to get fired up to play us and ours to play them.”
One thing the coaches do seem to like about the new system in consensus: It rewards for consistency. You play well those first seven weeks, you’re going to get a high seed and a chance to be at home for three games. Play really well, and fall into one of the non-eight team districts, and you might wind up with a first-round bye, like Rehagen’s Eagles received. A chance to catch their breath at midseason and heal some aches and pains.
“I like that every week matters,” Rehagen says. “And that (bye) week we were able to work on some things that were just about us. I know our guys didn’t necessarily like it, but we conditioned a bit, too.”
Some coaches still suggest, if MSHSAA could get over its “let’s don’t travel too much” hangup, that a system like the one used for Texas high school football would work best – eight team districts where only four of the top eight teams advance. They are paired up with four teams from another district – new faces – for an eight-team tournament, with conference affiliations thrown out the window from the start.
Because one thing Large, Rehagen and Christian agree upon – preparing for the same opponent a second time in a season isn’t altogether fun.
“You spend a lot of time watching your first game film with that opponent, and then you worry more,” Large said with a laugh. “What are they going to do different, what are they going to change?’ And then at the same time, you’re thinking about what wrinkles you’re going to throw into (the second matchup), too.”
“Football is the worst for overcoaching,” Christian said. “We get (spare) time and we can second guess over and over. It’s almost like when you watch your own tape, you need to prepare for the adjustment, because they are good coaches and they are going to change some things. The things they had success with, they’re not going to do the same thing … you hope. It’s like a chess match, and we’ve got to come up with that next move.”
Added Rehagen: “You do have to kind of wonder what is going to change this time and what’s the next thing they’re going to try to do … and the next thing we need to try to do. But when it gets right down to it, you’ve just got to get ready and execute with such a quick turnaround.”
No system is perfect. And if the worst thing that happens is a few rematches between very good teams and big rivals, then this one must be considered an improvement.
Follow Scott Puryear on Twitter @scottpuryear.