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Commentary: OSAA’s proposed move to split 6A football playoffs misses mark, but there’s a better solution

The Oregon School Activities Association is seriously considering a proposal that would split its 6A football classification during the playoffs.

In one division, the top 16 teams in the final OSAA rankings, with some adjustments for league champions. In the other division, everyone else.

What do we call this second division? The Have Nots Championship? Class 5½A? The Not Quite Good Enough playoffs? Yay We’re No. 17 Championship?

It’s a move teed up to mock, and that’s exactly what some are doing on social media. Give everyone a trophy, they say.

Which is missing the point.

The OSAA recognizes there’s a competitive problem. This isn’t about handing out more trophies, but leveling the playing field. As it currently stands, most schools in Class 6A have no chance to win a championship in football.

Consider the past 10 years of state championships. Out of a possible 20 teams to play in the championship games, only nine schools made the grade. For the semifinals, with 40 berths at stake, just 13 schools. For the quarterfinals, 26 schools filled the 80 berths on the line.

It’s a lot of sameness. Of the 10 playoff quarterfinals, Jesuit qualified for all, Central Catholic for nine. Tigard, Sheldon and West Linn have made the quarterfinals in seven of 10, Lake Oswego in six.

Meanwhile, the state’s three largest schools by enrollment—David Douglas, Reynolds, Westview—haven’t reached the quarterfinals eleven in the past 10 years. David Douglas hasn’t won a playoff game since 2011. Reynolds won a first-round game in 2018, its first since 1997.

For some schools, it’s an economics issue. Most of the state’s most successful football programs have plentiful resources, ranging from good facilities to families that can afford to pay for private training. Many of the schools consistently squeezed from playoff runs have students who can scarcely afford the cleats, let alone pay for a private trainer or a quarterback coach.

Clearly, there’s a problem.

But simply splitting 6A every postseason into two divisions, giving teams ranked below No. 16 a shot at a consolation prize, is a terrible idea.

Outside of parents and friends, few will pay attention to these playoffs. Have you attended the consolation rounds at a state basketball tournament? Everyone has a section of the gym to themselves.

One prominent 6A football coach I spoke to said he’s not heard from one coach who thinks the OSAA’s secondary 6A playoff is a good idea. But his ears perked up when I laid out an alternative plan.

In a nutshell, split 6A during the regular season and playoffs into two divisions for football: an Open division and a 6A division. This recognizes there clearly are schools with economic and other advantages, levels the competitive playing field, yet preserves the credibility of the 6A division.

The Open division consists of 16 teams, split into two eight-team regular season leagues. The remaining schools play in the 6A division. Currently, that’s 31. Close enough to divide into four leagues.

Which teams play in the Open division? For starters, Jesuit and Central Catholic are in. As private schools with enrollment requirements that have no boundaries, they must play in the Open division.

From there, use whatever criteria you’d like to decide which programs generally dominate the state, but here are a few: an average of the OSAA rankings from the past five years, and recent playoff resumes. The top 14 join Central Catholic and Jesuit.

In Open, teams play seven regular-season games against teams in their league, and two non-leaguers against schools of their choosing. The playoffs consist of 12 teams. The top six in each league qualify for postseason, the top two in each league getting a first-round bye.

In Class 6A, it’s a 16-team playoff. The top four from each league advance.

Easy peasy.

Now for the twist. There’s a two-year cycle for Open. After two years, the worst four performing Open teams – using set criteria – drop down to 6A for the upcoming two years. The top four teams from 6A are promoted to Open.

Win-win-win.

Oregon’s 6A football playoffs need reinvention. As it currently stands, there’s an unfair balance. But reworking the playoffs shouldn’t involve a shortcut, as the OSAA proposes. Admit there’s a problem, and create a real solution.

— Nick Daschel | ndaschel@oregonian.com | @nickdaschel

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