Stevens: 'Watered down' playoffs deliver wrong message
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 4, 2011 1:48 PM
I'll never forget the day a little more than two years ago when I went to a local attorney's office to close on my first home. While I signed my name to document after document, I thought back over all the times I sacrificed to save money for that day.
I recalled all the wise advice I had gotten and all the houses I saw before deciding on one that best suited my needs and budget.
No longer was I a renter with little to show for my money. On that day more than any other before, I truly understood what it means to earn something. Little did I know this investment would be the place my wife and I would also call home after we were married this July.
Unfortunately for high school football players in North Carolina, the true meaning of earning something -- in particular a playoff berth -- is a lesson a lot of them may never learn. I nearly fell out of my chair earlier this week when a local coach told me 98 teams in this season's N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs have losing records.
The message this come-one, come-all playoff system sends is that the body of work a team compiles over a grueling regular season no longer carries the same weight it once did. Having a sense of urgency each and every Friday night is no longer necessary. Do just enough to make the postseason and once you're in, anything is possible.
Having teams that won less than half their games in the same playoff field with teams that truly deserve the right to play for a state championship does nothing but lessen the integrity of the system. This can all be traced back to the almighty dollar and the mindset that somehow playing more games generates more money despite increased costs in travel, security, etc.
The inclusion of more teams into the state playoffs can also be linked to the growing need to turn the postseason into a pat-on-the-back, "everybody wins," Little League-type atmosphere where feeling included is more important than record. For a team that finished the regular season undefeated or won a conference championship, having to "prove" yourself in the first round against a team with a losing record is no way to begin the postseason.
I spent some time looking back through old playoff brackets on the NCHSAA Web site and the disintegration in the quality of overall records in playoff teams over the years is alarming. The number of playoff teams with losing records in 1991 was five, not 98 like this season.
From 1972-1980 only the top one or two teams from each conference advanced to the playoffs depending on which classification a respective school played in. Imagine the urgency teams would approach each game with today if that postseason format still existed.
The current playoff system and its pod format creates puzzling first-round matchups like two-time defending 2-A (small-school) state champion Tarboro at East Duplin. Each state-ranked team is 8-2 this season. The winner is likely "awarded" with a trip to unbeaten and No. 5-ranked Jacksonville Northside in the second round.
True fulfillment is achieved when hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears are given in hopes of achieving a common goal as a team. Handing out playoff berths like Halloween candy does nothing but breed instant gratification and teach North Carolina's youth to accept mediocrity.
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