From the sidelines


VHSL chatter about changing playoffs

By Marty Gordon

The high school football season is over, but the talk about the length of the season is continuing into the new year. Billy Hahn, the executive director of the Virginia High School League, has publicly said he thinks the season drags on maybe a week or two too long.

I tend to agree. At the heart of the matter is the change in classifications that took place several years ago from three to six. When the VHSL did this, more schools were able to play in the postseason.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t a good thing either. If you count the benefit games that do bring in extra money at the gate, several of our local schools could be playing 14 to 15 games a season.

The VHSL also needs to discuss the issue of teams with just two wins making the postseason. It does not make sense for that to be happening. To make the playoffs, a team should have won at least half of its games.

Regions like 4-West also present a problem. With only eight teams in the region, every team makes it to the playoffs no matter the record. Athletic directors should join this debate and come up with a solution.

Many of the smaller schools here in southwest Virginia are facing a much bigger problem: what to do when only 11 or 12 players come out for the varsity squad. We saw what happened in Bland County this year, and Craig County has to deal with the same matter every year.

I have a solution. Every region should go back to a maximum of six schools making the playoffs. The top two seeds would get a bye the first week. The playoff games would certainly be more competitive.

Does that sound familiar? It should. When there were only three classifications, teams had to play their way into the postseason and typically the top teams benefited because of their regular season.

In many cases under the current setup, the current regular season doesn’t matter at all except to serve as a vehicle to determine postseason seeding.

The VHSL is in the process of discussing the numbers game and is considering the possibility of introducing eight-player football. Yes, this too could help the smaller schools with their player crunch.. The plan would be similar to the way many of the schools practice during the summer with 7-on-7. It could be a viable option.

I don’t know what the answer is for the numbers game, but I do remember what Bland County did years ago when they had a combined football team from Bland and Rocky Gap high schools. It worked, but their numbers have continued to fall, and the two schools consolidated a few years back.

I don’t know if Bland will ever have football again, and I suspect several schools in the deep southwestern part of the state are facing a similar problem. Those schools have faced a lot of consolidation over the years and have found it tough to find other schools to play a full schedule.  A typical season often includes playing teams from West Virginia and Kentucky.

The length of the football season has also taken a toll on many high schools’ basketball seasons, the start of which has been delayed for as much as a month. That, too, is something to consider.

I can’t complain about the excitement of high school football, and Friday nights in Southwest Virginia are important to all of our communities. But the future of the schools and the health and well-being of the kids themselves must be considered. A longer season takes its toll on the bodies of these young student-athletes as they wear down. The VHSL must consider this and all the other “problems” associated with an 11- to 15-week season.

We at least need to be talking about and seeking solutions and changes.