It’s playoff time for Frederick County public high school sports teams. And our local young women and young men are well represented over the next several weeks as state championships will be decided in six fall sports: cross-country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer, and volleyball.
The locals already have one trophy in their 2019 collection, as the Oakdale golf team won its first state championship in the 1A/2A Class by defeating Linganore after having to go four playoff holes to break the first-place tie at the University of Maryland on Nov. 4. Urbana was in the hunt for the title in the 3A/4A class before tying for runner-up honors just two strokes behind the champions.
The field hockey and cross-country championships were decided Saturday cross-country, while soccer and volleyball will be decided over the next week.
The first round of the state football tournament got underway Friday as the first year of expansion to 32 teams in each of the four classifications was implemented. Eight teams from each of the four regions (North, South, East, West) qualified. Frederick County had eight teams qualify, with a representative in each classification.
The Old Coach has been in favor of the expansion of the football playoffs for many years. In a state as spread out geographically as the Old Line State and as diverse in school populations and rural/urban communities, there is quite a difference in the quality of the teams from region to region. Sometimes in the past, the best three or four teams in a classification (classifications are decided by ranking schools in size of enrollment and dividing by four) have been in the same region. That has particularly been unfair to the 2A West Region schools that have several strong football programs that often eliminate each other before moving on to the semifinals. Middletown, Oakdale, Walkersville, Seneca Valley and Damascus have all been West Region powerhouses over the years.
Now with the new format, the top two seeded teams in the region won’t have to butt heads until they progress beyond the region level. This is a particular benefit to 1A West leader Catoctin, which is second ranked in points in the state. The Cougars faced Southern-Garrett in the first round and, if they win, Boonsboro in Round 2. Those are two teams the Cougars defeated during the regular season. If they win, they won’t face a second-seeded Fort Hill team from Cumberland, winners of five of the last six 1A titles, until the state semifinals.
The revised format creates a scenario where the Nos. 1 and 2 seeded teams in the state will have the best chance of meeting in the state finals. This makes the championship much more meaningful and eliminates the “what if” speculation. With the top 32 teams in the state competing, the cream will come to the top. Every team that wins the championship will know that they beat the best to earn the title.
Now, it’s time for college football to follow suit. Perhaps they can learn from the MPSSAA football committee. Why not create a format that insures that the top teams in the country get to vie for the national championship? Right now, only four teams are selected by committee to participate in the championship process. There’s a lot of room for bias to enter into the selection process. If the college football semifinals were to take place today, Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and Penn State would meet in the Final Four. Only two of the five major conferences would be represented, the Big Ten and the Southeast Conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big-12, and the Pac-10 teams would be left out.
The ACC’s Clemson, winner of two of the last three national titles, would be left out even though it was undefeated as of the first rankings. Each year the four-team playoff has been in effect, a conference champion team has been left out. Each year, the SEC has had two of the final four teams, while at least two of the other major conferences’ best sat on the sideline. A system needs to be implemented where all the conferences have a chance to compete on the field for a chance to play for the national championship. The Old Coach knows that a 32-team tournament could be applied to the college system. It’s already done in each of the other divisions. Division II has a 36-team tournament.
All the games in a 32-team bracket could be played using the present tiered bowl system. There would be enough lower-tier bowls to accommodate the remaining bowl-eligible teams (approximately 32) that don’t qualify for the national championship field. This tournament would guarantee that a Big 12 champion Oklahoma, a Big Ten champion Wisconsin, or a Pac 12 champion Oregon gets an opportunity to challenge for the title.
It also would give other quality programs a shot. Those teams could make it through the brackets and surprise the favorites. It could make for a very exciting and much more meaningful bowl season. And I don’t think the gate receipts would suffer one bit, considering there would be so much interest in seeing which teams would advance in a one-and-done scenario.
The Old Coach has always pushed for expansion of the playoff systems at both the high school and college levels. Maryland has finally created a fair playoff system. Now it’s time for the NCAA to do the same.
And don’t forget to support your favorite high school fall sports teams as they progress through the playoffs. Frederick County always produces our share of state champions, and I imagine there will be several more adding to the list this fall.