“If my team wins Friday, will be they be in the playoffs? Where will they be seeded? Who will they play in the first round?”
At playoff time, those are the three questions high school football fans ask me most often.
The standard response is, “I don’t know.”
It’s not that I don’t want to answer questions. I don’t try to determine which teams will be in the playoffs in any sport for two simple reasons:
I don’t want to be wrong, and I can’t afford to be wrong.
There is intense interest in the pairings for all high school tournaments, with football being at the top of the list. But the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association committee members who determine the pairings will tell you their work isn’t easy, and they sometimes make mistakes.
The DIAA’s fall sports manual takes 1,209 words to describe how the pairings for the Division I and Division II football tournaments are determined. (If you really want to read it, go to http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/diaa/, click on handbooks and manuals, then click on fall sports tournament manual.)
Basically, teams receive six points for a win over a Division I opponent, four points for a win over a Division II opponent, one point for a loss to a Division I opponent and no points for a loss to a Division II opponent. Teams also receive one bonus point for each opponent that won seven or eight regular-season games, and two bonus points for each opponent that won nine or 10 regular-season games.
But there is more to it than that. Most fans know which teams are Division I and Division II in Delaware. But many teams play out-of-state opponents, and their status as a Division I or Division II opponent must be determined by the enrollment of that school as of a certain date determined by DIAA. The status of out-of-state opponents is determined by Bill Legge, the former athletic director at William Penn who serves as chairman of the DIAA’s football tournament committee.
“It involves a lot of phone calls,” Legge said Friday. “… The chairman is the only one who can determine whether an opponent is Division I or Division II.”
Online forums buzz weekly with updates of the football playoff points. Legge has seen some of the posts and gives some posters credit, saying they are very close to being accurate.
But very close isn’t enough. One point here or there could completely reshuffle the pairings, or even eliminate a team.
“Sometimes it’s funny to see people try to guess these points,” Legge said. “… The biggest thing is bonus points. They actually give teams bonus points before they play the game.”
Even going into the last week of the season, there were too many scenarios to write a clear, concise story that would accurately explain where each team stands.
For example, the winner of Friday night’s Salesianum-St. Mark’s game would earn its ninth win, which would award a bonus point to every team on that team’s schedule. So that game had an impact on the playoff scenarios of several teams.
I could take a stab at calculating the points and all the scenarios, and most years it would probably be correct. But you only have to be wrong once for fans to remember it forever. If I were to write, “Team X will be in the playoffs with a win on Friday” and that didn’t happen, it’s one of the worst mistakes I could ever make.
Even the DIAA football committee has gotten it wrong before. Legge couldn’t recall the year or the schools involved, but a few years ago after the committee announced the pairings an official from a school that had been left out called and pointed out a mistake. The points were recalculated, and the committee had to call the coach of a team that thought it was in the playoffs and tell him that team’s season was over.
It’s OK if the tournament committee makes a mistake, because the DIAA operates the tournaments and must deal with the fallout. But that’s a risk I’m not willing to take on behalf of The News Journal.
Besides, what’s wrong with a little suspense? While watching the results from Tuesday’s election roll in, we found that all of the polls that forecast the winner of every race in every state were absolutely accurate. It made me wonder why all of us voted, since the outcomes appeared predetermined.
The committee will announce the pairings for this year’s Division I and Division II football tournaments this afternoon, and we will publish them on delawareonline.com as soon as possible. Until then, sit back and enjoy wondering who is in and who is out.