High School Sports

Playoff seeding for football playoffs?

A year ago the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association overhauled the basketball state tournaments.

Not to be outdone, the Washington State Football Coaches Association wants to implement a massive change to the football state playoffs.

The coaches’ proposal calls for a committee of at least a dozen retired coaches and athletic directors to seed teams into the state tournament, much like the NCAA basketball tournament committee does.

“All of us realize there is not a perfect plan,” Lakes coach Dave Miller said. “We’re trying to get closer, to improve what we have.”

Mike Colbrese, WIAA executive director, said he expects to meet with representatives from the coaches association by April after the WIAA has completed its review of the state basketball tournaments.

Miller was part of a group of coaches that discussed changes at the association’s mid-winter conference in January at the Bellevue Hilton. The purpose of seeding teams into the playoffs is for the top teams to avoid meeting in the early rounds.

For instance, last season third-ranked Tumwater and second-ranked Lynden met in the first round of the Class 2A football state playoffs. Tumwater beat the Lions, 21-10, and went on to claim the 2A state title, winning its remaining games by an average of 32.3 points.

Tumwater and Lynden were widely regarded as two of the best teams in the state, but because Tumwater was the Southwest District’s No. 2 seed – unranked Mark Morris of the Greater St. Helens League was the district’s No. 1 seed – it was sent to play the Lions, the Northwest District’s No. 1 seed.

“Every year you see this,” Miller said. “It’s frustrating. That Tumwater-Lynden game might have been the two best teams in 2A.”

If the coaches association gets its way, that matchup would not have occurred until at least the semifinals.

Miller’s Lancers have fallen prey to playoff scheduling quirks. In 2007, top-ranked Lakes visited second-ranked Skyline in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. Skyline beat the Lancers and advanced to win the state title.

The current system places teams into the state playoff bracket by pairing high-seeded teams from one league or district with low-seeded teams from a different league or district. For example, in Class 4A last season the Northwest District No. 1 seed was scheduled to host the No. 4 seed from the West Central District in the first round of the state playoffs.

But a league’s strength can go up and down, resulting in potential mismatches. Then there’s the playoff agreement among four districts – Northwest, Sea-King, West Central and Southwest – that creates the quad-district playoffs in Week 10 for 4A and 3A teams. The Greater Spokane League and Columbia Basin Big Nine engage in a similar agreement for Week 10 playoff games.

These games add another wrinkle to how teams are placed on the state playoff bracket. After Issaquah, the lowest seed from the KingCo Conference, defeated Olympia, the overall No. 1 seed from the WCD, in Week 10, Issaquah was placed on the state bracket as the top seed from the WCD and had home-field advantage through the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

Miller said the coaches also discussed expanding the state playoffs to include 32 teams – that’s essentially what it is, anyway, with the Week 10 games – so the districts and WIAA are working together. He also said the committee might not need to slot every team onto the playoff bracket, but possibly just the top four or eight and make sure they are in different quarter-brackets to avoid meeting early in the playoffs. That process would be similar to how the NCAA seeds teams into the Football Championship Series, the former Division I-AA.

In addition to using a committee of former coaches and athletic directors, Miller said the coaches have considered including media rankings as part of the formula for seeding teams.

“The system we have is not a bad system,” Miller said. “We just think we can make it better.”