Region 4C football playoffs expanding to eight teams; district standings will determine qualifiers

Fans of Region 4C football are not only going to have a much easier time figuring out who’s heading to the postseason this year, but there’s also going to be more teams in the playoffs.
Region 4C is expanding its postseason from six to eight teams, and those eight spots will be filled by four teams each from the Northwestern District and the Dulles District. The Northwestern has eight Class 4 schools while the Dulles has seven.
Those eight qualifiers will be determined by the win-loss records in each district and not the Virginia High School League’s power points rating system that people are accustomed to, though. Teams will need to finish in the top four in their district’s standings to participate in the postseason. At the end of the regular season, power ratings will come into play if there’s a tie in the standings between three teams or more that can’t be broken by the results of head-to-head matchups.
Out of 24 regions in the state, Region 4C was only of two that sent fewer than eight teams to the postseason last year.
When the VHSL adopted a 24-region format in 2017, the feeling among Region 4C activities coordinators was that having eight teams qualify for the postseason — which would be more than 50 percent of the region’s 14 teams — would take away the significance of what it actually means to qualify for the postseason. For example, only six teams from the Northwestern and Dulles — the only two districts in the newly formed Region 4C in 2017 — had winning records in 2016. Ultimately, the region decided on six teams for 2017.
“We’ve discussed [going to eight teams] for the past several years,” Millbrook coordinator of student activities Scott Mankins said. “[In 2017], at the time, we didn’t want to have eight teams if that meant taking three teams with losing records.”
But in 2017 eight teams from the two districts had winning records — including 7-3 Heritage (Leesburg) — and in 2018 six had winning records and three teams went 5-5. The activities coordinators of the now 15-team region decided it was time to mirror what most of the state was doing with its football postseason.
“We revisit [our system] each year,” said Mankins, who added that the region’s activities coordinators frequently seek input from coaches. “As competitive as our region has been the past few years, we thought the time was right to go ahead and expand [the number of playoff teams] from six to eight.”
Handley director of student activities Reed Prosser is glad the expansion is in place. He coached that 7-3 Heritage team that missed the playoffs in 2017, and in his first year as Handley’s DSA the Judges went 5-5 and finished eighth in the power ratings.
“It’s something I’ve been fighting for for a long time,” Prosser said. “I think the quality of football in our area — in Loudoun, the Winchester-Frederick area, and Fauquier — is great. When you have a situation where you’re going 8-2 or 7-3 and not making the playoffs, that’s not really the model we want to follow.”
Sherando has only missed the playoffs twice under head coach Bill Hall since 2004, a year that saw the Warriors miss the playoffs with an 8-2 record. Hall said back in 2017 there were a lot of things to like about the upcoming six-team region playoff format and he reiterated those points in a phone interview Tuesday. But he added on Tuesday he has no issues with an eight-team playoff format either.
“I saw some advantages with six in terms of being able to get a [first-round] bye when you earn that,” Hall said. “But I’m also comfortable with eight. What my only concern has ever been is that you don’t want to water the playoffs down. You want it to be hard to get in [the playoffs]. As long as everybody is really successful among those eight teams that get in, I’m good with it.”
While going from six to eight teams isn’t unusual, the method in which Region 4C will group its eight qualifiers will provide a unique look.
The eight Class 4 Northwestern District schools will each play one game against each other for a total of seven games, and the seven Class 4 Dulles District schools will each play one game against each other for a total of six, with the four teams holding the best records in these games in their respective districts moving on to the postseason. According to VHSL administrative assistant Lora Bickley, none of the other 23 regions are currently planning to use the VHSL power points rating system.
James Wood coach Ryan Morgan is not only looking forward to an eight-team playoff format, but he also likes the idea of having standings determine the playoff qualifiers.
On Oct. 6 last year, fourth-place Liberty (3-3 in district play) beat fifth-place James Wood (2-4 district) 32-23, but the Colonels had more total yards and led early in the second half. A James Wood win that night would have resulted in a fourth-place finish and a playoff spot using this year’s qualifying system.
“I think [using the standings] makes it a little bit easier to judge and makes the goals a little bit clearer,” Morgan said. “The goal for us is to always win each game. If you go 10-0, you’re going to make the playoffs, but that’s not very realistic for most teams.
“Most of the season I ignore [the playoff ratings]. Getting too wrapped up in it is a little bit too difficult because there’s a lot that goes into it. But with the standings, you don’t have to make a bunch of different calculations. You just look at the won-loss records of the teams in your district and you see if you’re on pace to be in or you’re on pace to be out.”
The reasons why district standings are being used as a playoff qualifier and not the VHSL power ratings — which is what Region 4C used previously — is to limit regular-season rematches in the postseason.
All four quarterfinals games will feature Northwestern teams taking on Dulles teams. The No. 1 Northwestern team will host the No. 4 Dulles team, the No. 2 Northwestern team will host the No. 3 Dulles team, the No. 1 Dulles team will host the No. 4 Northwestern District team, and the No. 2 Dulles team will host the No. 3 Northwestern team.
That format might also prevent regular-season rematches in the semifinals — for example, if the four home teams win, then the No. 1 Northwestern team will host the No. 2 Dulles team and the No. 1 Dulles team will host the No. 2 Northwestern team. (The No. 1. Northwestern-No. 4 Dulles winner will play the No. 2 Dulles-No. 3 Northwestern winner in one semifinal and the other four teams will make up the other half of the bracket.)
If two teams on the same seed line played each other — for example, if the top-seeded teams from both the Northwestern District and the Dulles District advance to the championship game — then the team with the higher power points rating will host the game.
Last year, there wasn’t a game pitting the Northwestern District against the Dulles District until the championship game featuring Woodgrove and Sherando. One half of the bracket featured three Northwestern teams and the other half featured three Dulles teams.
“We wanted the teams advancing to the regional playoffs not so much to have a rematch of a regular-season game, but to [play] a competitive team that wasn’t necessarily a rematch,” said Mankins, who added that Region 4C received permission from the VHSL to use this format.
The odds of regular-season rematches in the quarterfinals this year are slim. The only regular-season games featuring Northwestern and Dulles teams are Fauquier against Loudoun County on Aug. 30, Millbrook vs. Loudoun County on Sept. 6, Millbrook against Heritage on Sept. 13, and Fauquier vs. Heritage on Sept. 20. Even with that, there would be a least eight weeks between games if any of these teams did meet again.
Hall has often stated over the years that he likes seeing new teams come playoff time, so having a system in place that ensures Sherando will see a new brand new opponent in the first round of the playoffs (should it qualify) is something he’s looking forward to.
“We’re already guaranteed to play teams in our district in the regular season,” Hall said. “I’d much rather play somebody different in the playoffs. It’s fun for us to play different competition. I think it’s good for the kids, I think it’s good for our fans, and I think it’s good for regional competition.”
Morgan agrees.
“You want to see some new teams play,” Morgan said. “It’s nice to see some new styles of play, some new team colors, and new school bands and all that kind of stuff. It’s good to get some fresh blood and see some teams you don’t normally get to play.”
Mankins said there’s no set number of years that this system is designed to last, but it was implemented with the hope that it’s a system that most people will be pleased with for a long time.
“We don’t want to change every year, but we revisit each of our sports and our activities on an annual basis,” Mankins said. “At the all-district meetings and all-region meetings that we hold, those aren’t just to vote on the all-district teams and all-region teams. It’s also to get input from those coaches at those meetings. We want to know what’s working right, what do you want to see changed, what’s the rationale behind why you want something changed. And each of us talks to our head coaches regularly.
“We have discussions, but we also don’t want to be too quick to make a change just because somebody’s not happy in one year.”
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