By Roger Barbee
As a teacher and coach at Central High School, I follow students and their activities. The Central football team has had a fine regular season (8-2) and has made the VHSL playoffs, as it did last year. So, on Saturday afternoon a team from Richmond came to Woodstock for the first game of this year's playoffs. When I saw the regular season record of the team (3-7), I became curious as to how a team with a losing record could qualify for a state playoff.
VHSL is the alliance of public schools that oversees student sports and activities in order to build better citizens. For football, the VHSL has a rating system that awards points no matter the conference of a school. Thus, each of the six classifications is divided into two divisions of 16 teams each, making the total number of teams in the playoffs 192. Of these, 52 have no better than a record of .500 or worse. One team made these playoffs with a record of 1-9. I wonder why the organization in charge of our public school student football players would develop such an unjust system?
I worry about the influence of professional or college sports on high school programs. I see, too often, players and coaches on this level acting as they have seen professional or college players act. I now think that the VHSL is, like professional and college teams, more interested in making money than the welfare of the student players.
If not, why else would it allow a team with, at best, a .500 record, to make the playoffs? That is not, in my mind, a playoff caliber team. It is just a team to fill a slot so that more games with the accompanying $7 admissions can be played.
The football players who played this past weekend in the first playoff game began formal practices on August 1st. If a team continues to win, it will play its last game in early December for a state championship. That is more than four months of football. Even for the teams that lost this past weekend, the players have been playing more than three months.
That is, by any reckoning, a long season.
As the agent in charge, VHSL could improve this system by several ways. One is to reduce the regular season to eight games instead of 10, and to develop a rating system that has a playoff system of teams with winning records. By allowing teams with 3-7 records to be in the playoffs is to lie to that team and to use that team as fodder for a better one. Here are some scores from the first round: 33-12; 41-7; 35-0; 49-0;36-7; 49-15; 49-13; and the 1-9 team lost 50-8. In my mind that is not the way I would want my team or son to finish a season.
I understand and appreciate the popularity of football, but I hope the VHSL will examine what is best for student athletes and ask if a high school season that goes from August to December is in the best interest of the student-athlete. Sure, many people pay a $7 admission fee to see a playoff game, but is that what we are about in high school athletics? Have we allowed the lust for lucre to seep into our system of play?
Looking at the VHSL playoff brackets, it seems so to me.
I am not against a team having the experience and fun of a playoff game. However, not every team deserves a spot in the playoffs. As a culture we seem to want to award every effort, but that is not healthy for the student. In the 4A classification, 12 of the 32 teams have losing records. How, in any system, can they be playoff material?
Except of course, if they are needed to increase the number of games that charge admission.
If that is the rationale, then it makes sense -- money sense, but not sense that is good for the students across the state.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.