08/19/10 — Pod playoff system in place for 2010

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Pod playoff system in place for 2010

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 19, 2010 2:23 PM

Every proposal has its flaw, but the "pod" football playoff system offered by the N.C. High School Athletic Association might turn into a resounding touchdown this season.

At least for 1-A schools.

The economic downturn that started in 2007 forced the Association to possibly restructure the current large- and small-school playoffs, which started in 2001. The Board approved the new scheme and the Association created a subcommittee to respond to concerns that arose statewide.

With cost containment the main issue, the subcommittee collected feedback from coaches and school administrators, and brainstormed ideas. Football generates more revenue than any other sport at most schools, so it was important to not cut those resources.

The pod system will help.

The 16-team eastern and western brackets will remain intact, but will be sub-divided into two regions. Officials at the NCHSAA said geographical coordinates (longitude and latitude) will be used to determine where teams fall in the east, mideast, midwest and west regions.

"We did the research and said that it saved massive amounts of travel in 1-A and 1-AA," said Rick Strunk, associate commissioner of the NCHSAA. "In 15 of the 16 brackets (east and west), there was a reduction of travel in every round. I think it preserves the positive aspects for seeding and addresses the concerns about travel."

For example, North Duplin, Rosewood and Princeton -- the far-most western teams in the east, logged extensive miles in the first three rounds of the playoffs last season. North Duplin traveled to Cherokee and Rosewood visited Mt. Airy, while Princeton stayed home.

The pod system would have awarded the Rebels a first-round game at West Columbus and the Eagles would have made a 10-minute trip to Princeton.

"I like it because we've been on the end where we've had to get on a bus and ride to Cherokee," said Princeton coach Russell Williamson. "With the way small 1-A is, it does benefit us. Let's do it and see how it works. If it doesn't work, let's try something else out."

Strunk isn't sure if the system will increase revenue, but the Association anticipates a decrease in expenses.

In 2007, North Duplin earned the No. 1 seed in the western 1-A playoffs and had four home contests. Opposing teams brought their fans, but the school didn't generate a profit until reaching the state title game against Plymouth.

The Association has used its Endowment fund to offset early-round games that took a financial hit. That changed when the recession hit.

The only setback, at this point, is the pod system could force stronger teams to meet in early rounds in all the classifications. Williamson and Goldsboro coach Eric Reid understand that situation, and each said you have to beat the better teams to reach the state finals.

Strunk agrees.

"The schools realize that we're still seeding and the better teams should advance," he said. "A corollary to this is it will help attendance depending on travel time. If teams are closer to home, we feel like that could help the crowds as well.

"The pod system maintains the integrity of the seeding system designed to reward regular-season performance."