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Mick McCabe: MHSAA should adopt new format for football playoffs now


12:00 AM, Feb. 17, 2013 EST

Try to imagine the 2012 football state playoffs without Novi Detroit Catholic Central, but with Milford.

CC was 5-4 and advanced to the Division 1 championship game. Milford was 4-5 and didn't make the playoffs.

But CC would have been out in Division 1 and Milford would have been part of the Division 2 field had the Enhanced Strength of Schedule System been used by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

The new system is the brainchild of a couple of teacher/football coaches with computer and math backgrounds -- Andrew Pratley of West Branch Ogemaw Heights and Greg Vaughan of Traverse City St. Francis, who studied every playoff format in the country.

And while the system would not have been good for CC last season, CC could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new format, which is gaining statewide support.

Interest in a new system has been growing since MHSAA executive director Jack Roberts and former assistant director Jerry Cvengros devised the current football playoff format that guaranteed a playoff spot to any team with six wins.

"It was probably the most popular decision I'd had until that time -- maybe ever," Roberts said. "Now it's blamed for breaking up leagues and ending rivalries."

Roberts thought a system that guaranteed a six-win team a spot in the playoffs would encourage coaches to schedule challenging opponents, but it has had the opposite result.

Traditionally good teams are left to scrounge for nonconference games because the race is on to get six wins and make the playoffs.

"Our hope is people look at this not from a standpoint that Detroit Catholic Central shouldn't be in the playoffs," Pratley said. "But what is happening to them is people aren't willing to play them, and they have to go to Canada to find a game, and the only game they could find was a Division 8 opponent."

Had Vineland Niagara equaled a Division 7 team, CC would have made the playoffs under the new system.

"Right now my feeling is every football coach in Michigan is being judged on whether they make the playoffs or not," said CC coach Tom Mach. "I'm in favor of anything that makes people want to play people that need games instead of dodging everybody if they think they can lose."

Pratley and Vaughan think they can help change the coaching mind-set.

"It's the 6-3 win-and-get-in kind of mentality of trying to find six wins instead of playing people," Pratley said. "It's not just a northern Michigan issue, but everywhere in the state of Michigan people not wanting to play good programs really made it difficult to find people to play."

So Pratley and Vaughan have devised the Enhanced Strength of Schedule System that could radically change the way coaches approach scheduling. The magic number for automatically making the playoffs would be seven, but the overwhelming majority of six-win teams make it. And teams with 4-5 records can also be in the playoffs.

The biggest change comes in bonus points, awarded by an opponent's division. Teams receive bonus points whether they beat or lose to that opponent, rewarding teams for playing good opponents.

For instance, a school could earn 72 bonus points for losing to a Division 1 school that finishes 7-2. Currently, it receives only six points.

The Enhanced Strength of Schedule System will be discussed at the athletic directors' convention next month and could be voted on at the MHSAA's representative council's May meeting.

This plan does what Roberts' and Cvengros' plan hoped to accomplish, but Roberts is gun shy about pushing to get this plan into effect this fall.

"Every time we have attempted to expand the field or improve the playoffs, there has been some unintended consequence come along that's almost made me regret it," Roberts said. "I'm hopeful, but I'm just experienced enough to know that the creativity of coaches and others may try to find the edge in this, too. I just hope it does reward and does cause people to schedule aggressively as we thought the other one would."

Coaches will begin scheduling more aggressively as soon as the first 6-3 team fails to make the playoffs under the new format.

That is precisely why it should be used this fall.

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or mmccabe@freepress.com . Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.

More Details: Breaking down the Enhanced Strength of Schedule System for prep football

* Schools are divided by size into eight predetermined divisions before the season begins instead of taking the 256 playoff qualifiers and dividing them into eight divisions when the regular season ends.

* Instead of receiving 80 playoff points for beating a Class A school, 64 for Class B, 48 for Class C and 32 for Class D, points will be awarded by divisions: Beating a Division 1 school: 88 points; Div. 2: 80; Div. 3: 72; Div. 4: 64; Div. 5: 56; Div. 6: 48; Div. 7: 40; Div. 8: 32.

* Teams now receive eight bonus points each time a beaten opponent wins a game, but only one point when a team it lost to wins. The new system replaces both scenarios by awarding bonus points according to an opponent's division: Division 1: 12 points; Div. 2: 11; Div. 3: 10; Div. 4: 9; Div. 5: 8; Div. 6: 7; Div. 7: 6; Div. 8: 5. Teams get points for opponents' wins (not including an opponent's win over that team, if applicable).

Applying ESSS to the 2012 season

MHSAA director of brand management Andy Frushour took the new format and converted the 2012 season to fit. With the predetermined divisions, playoff teams were chosen by the highest playoff-point averages.

* In Division 1, Temperance Bedford and Traverse City West, both 6-3, did not make the playoffs.

* In Division 2, 4-5 Milford had a higher playoff point average than several 5-4 teams.

* Sault Ste. Marie (6-3) did not make the Division 3 field, but 4-5 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern did.

* Every 7-2 team made the playoffs, but there were a few 6-3 teams left out; 80% of the teams left out lost in the first round of the playoffs last year.

 

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