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Friday, November 23, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.
For better title games, re-seed before semifinals | Analysis
By Jayson Jenks
Seattle Times staff reporter
When it comes to high-school football playoffs, there's really only one consensus: The current system is flawed.
Even the WIAA, which takes more flak than it deserves and will look at improving playoff draws this December, admits the process is complex, confusing and not ideal. As John Miller, the man who oversees football for the WIAA, put it, "What we're doing has a tremendous amount of flaws and criticism."
In 4A, there's a widely held belief that the two best teams — Skyline (12-0) and Camas (12-0) — are playing Saturday in the semifinals. In 3A, Mount Si (11-1) and Bellevue (12-0) will square off Friday for the second time this season, while Eastside Catholic (12-0) plays University (8-4) in Spokane in the other semifinal.
And while there is varying opinion about whether Mount Si or Eastside Catholic should be the state's second-ranked team, the 12-game evidence overwhelmingly suggests that University is only the fourth-best still playing.
Here's a proposed change: Before the semifinals, the WIAA should re-seed to ensure the top two remaining teams have the opportunity to meet for the championship.
"I think coaches want what the fans want, which is the best teams playing for the state title," Bothell coach Tom Bainter said. "Over the years, it usually fits, but not always. Sometimes the best games are in the semis. Whatever way you can get to that point, I think you'd have the coaches on your side."
That's not to say upsets won't happen. Just because a team is given a No. 1 seed doesn't mean that team is given anything else.
But teams that have proved to be the best in the state should have the chance to meet for the title. If one gets knocked out in the semifinals, so be it.
What bothers some fans is the idea that unbeaten teams such as Skyline and Camas are playing in one semifinal while Auburn (10-2) and Bellarmine Prep (11-1) are in the other.
So here's my proposal:
Re-seeding would go through a seven-member committee that would serve two-year terms. Three members would be coaches from different parts of the state. Three would be athletic directors representing varied areas. And the last would be a media member.
Those seven would be responsible for producing a simple majority vote to re-seed the semifinals.
The committee would evaluate teams on easy-to-understand criteria: records, common opponents, head-to-head results, a team's finish in its conference, state rankings (while these are often misguided, including my own, they provide at least some context) and margin of victory, which would be capped at 35 points to discourage teams from running up the score.
Alone, those criteria don't offer much in the way of separating teams. But together they produce a broad enough scope to measure teams from different leagues and areas of the state.
One argument against re-seeding has been that coaches want to know possible opponents two weeks in advance, for scouting purposes. But with teams exchanging game film, plus widespread use of Hudl — a website that allows coaches to watch game tape and videos — that argument is outdated.
"That has kind of gone out the window," one coach said.
While there will be disagreements over seeding decisions, is that any different from what we have now? Isn't it at least worth looking into?
At worst, we end up with the same situation we're in now, with two of the top teams meeting in the semifinals. At best, the top two teams will play in a championship game that provides a satisfying conclusion.
"That makes sense to me," one prominent coach said.
There's another potential change in the developmental stage that could help solve the problem.
Jerry Parrish, the longtime North Kitsap coach and secretary of the Washington State Coaches Association, has spent the last two years culling information from teams around the state with the intention of proposing a RPI-based seeding system, similar in some ways to the BCS.
Under Parrish's plan, teams would be re-seeded after the round-of-32, with the top two seeds on opposite ends of the bracket, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament. Parrish said his group will unveil the plan to the WIAA after this season with hopes of getting it in place for the 2014 playoffs.
Oregon uses a similar system. But there are complications in Washington.
First, Oregon doesn't have as many multi-classification leagues, such as KingCo 3A/2A and the Seamount League, another league with both 3A and 2A members.
Second, Washington's coaches don't want teams traveling all over the state. An Oregon team will play an opponent regardless of distance, but Washington tries to minimize travel, especially for teams east of the Cascades.
And here is the biggest catch: To date, coaches have not uniformly supported Parrish's system, even in its early stages.
"I think we would have to get a real strong message from them that they are united behind something," WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said, "and we're not hearing that."
That doesn't mean change can't start small.
Overhauling the entire system is a massive undertaking, one that will take years to hammer out. But re-seeding before the semifinals only increases the chance of seeing the two best teams square off for the championship.
At the end of the day, that's how titles should be decided.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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