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Take 2: Expanding the playoffs

The Illinois High School Association is considering proposals to expand the football playoffs to include more teams. Sports writers Joe Stevenson and Tom Musick discuss:

Musick: Joe, you know more about high school in your left pinky finger than I do in my entire body. Can you set the table and explain this story before we dig deeper into it?

Stevenson: Every once in a while, someone at some IHSA member school feels their football team is being not getting a fair shake, so another plan is hatched to expand the playoffs from its 256 teams dispersed among eight classes.

They’re at it again. Three new proposals have popped up for the IHSA Legislative Committee to consider over the next month. There will be town hall meetings, discussions, ample formats for feedback and then schools can vote between Dec. 2 and Jan. 1.

I’ll offer all that needs to be said about these proposals right now, no town meetings necessary: Don’t!

Musick: I’ve got to agree with you. I read a proposal that calls for 384 teams in the playoffs, which would be an increase of 128 teams. According to the proposal, all 4-5 teams would make the playoffs, and almost 50 percent of 3-6 teams would make the playoffs. Is that really progress? Aren’t you watering down the meaning of a playoff berth?

Stevenson: Absolutely. Football is different, and that’s fine. Getting in should be a special achievement. If you start letting almost everyone in, they haven’t really achieved anything and you’re going to get some pretty bad first-round games.

Plus, one proposal even had first-round byes for the higher seeds like in the NFL. What do you think of that?

Musick: I think that would create a whole new set of issues and complaints regarding which teams receive byes and which teams have to play in the first round. Maybe I’m turning into a character from “Grumpy Old Men” - Walter Matthau is the best - but I see no need for sweeping changes here. Proponents of some of these proposals argue that expanding the playoffs would provide better parity throughout the eight classes. Does that argument hold any water?

Stevenson: Not much. The deserving teams get in now and there is plenty of parity. You know what’s funny? I was a champion for the expansion to of classes a few years ago in the other sports. I was one of the few media people who liked it. So this sounds like I’m contradicting myself here, but football has been tinkered with before. The IHSA expanded from 16 to 32 teams in each class, then later added two classes to get to eight. I think the IHSA can leave this one alone.

Musick: And if you’re a high school football player and you want to make the playoffs, then it’s a pretty simple path to that goal. Beat good teams. Post a winning record. Earn it. All of our area teams in the playoffs have earned the right to play in November, and here’s hoping it stays that way in the years ahead.

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