Playoffs, Take 2

Posted: October 23, 2015

Do you remember a character on Saturday Night Live named Emily Litella?

The character, created by the late Gilda Radner, would go on Weekend Update and expound upon a letter only to find out that she had the issue wrong (like “deaf” penalty instead of “death” penalty). Then she’d look at anchor Jane Curtin and say, “Oh that’s different then,” pause and say “Never mind.”

That’s the way we feel right now.

Last week, the topic was about our area football teams vying for the 16-team playoff field in Region 4A West only to find out that with little fanfare prior to the season the bracket had been cut to 12 teams.

Never mind.

But unlike Miss Litella, we’re going to take another shot at this.

Region 4A West became one of just two regions among the state’s 12 to slice its playoff field by a quarter. The region’s athletic directors voted unanimously in favor of the change.

The big reason, according to Millbrook athletic director Scott Mankins, was expenses. Because the 4A West Region extends from the top of the state close to the North Carolina line, some programs suffered a nearly $5,000 deficit for the first-round travel.

There also were other proposed advantages. The top four seeds are rewarded by receiving a first-round bye and the new format ended early-round mismatches between the top and the bottom seeds.

The numbers from last season, seem to back up that final point. In first-round games involving the four top seeds, no opponent came within three touchdowns of victory. The average margin in those games was 36 points.

Certainly seems like a waste of time.

But what do the coaches think? Everyone wants to make the playoffs, right?

You might be surprised.

Handley’s Tony Rayburn agrees with cutting the field.

“I don’t think a team that’s .500 or below .500 necessarily deserves to be in the playoffs, so I kind of like it,” Rayburn said.

Millbrook’s Josh Haymore said that the number of teams eligible doesn’t change his approach to the season.

“Whatever it is, you’ve still got to win football games,” Haymore said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

While some coaches prefer not to have a week off, Rayburn says he has benefited in the past from being rewarded by a bye. In 2009 (under a different format), the Judges had a first-round bye before a second-round matchup against Goochland.

“We were a little banged up and we were able to heal up,” he said.. “We got some of our better players back and played real well in the second round. ... I thought it rewarded us for having a good regular season. You get to go scout the two teams that you’re playing the winner of, so I really liked it.”

Haymore knows that the new format could cost his team a shot at the playoffs. Heading into tonight’s clash with James Wood, the Pioneers are ninth in the VHSL power rankings, which are used to determine who’s in, who’s out and who plays who in the playoffs.

“We’re happy to be in the situation we’re in,” said Haymore. “The kids are playing hard and we’ve got a different kind of team this year.”

The Pioneers know they have to keep winning. It appears seven wins is going to be a must to make the playoffs, where in year’s past teams have made it with five.

With fractions of points possibly deciding who gets in and who doesn’t, it puts an emphasis on playing strong opponents. The better those opponents perform, the better your power rating.

“Josh and I are under agreement that you’ve got to play teams that will get you ready for down the road,” Mankins said.

And since schedules are made on a two-year cycle, you hope a traditionally strong opponent doesn’t hit a rough stretch.

Haymore admits he’s looked at the VHSL rankings more this season because the Pioneers are in contention and that finishing 13th would sting. But dreaming of the playoffs is futile at this point.

“That stuff doesn’t matter,” he said. “You have to stay focused or James Wood is going to beat you.”

— Walt Moody is the sports editor   at The Winchester Star