Football season is upon us — well, almost.
I mean, we’re just days away from full pad practices cranking up and when that happens, the countdown to kick-off is on for real.
Teams are currently participating in camps or 7 on 7 games and enduring the sweltering summer heat that I pray will improve before the boys get into the pads. Speaking from experience, heat exhaustion during summer practice is no joke.
Even with the heat, it’s exciting to be on the eve of a new football season. And no level of football is more exciting or any fan base more passionate than high school football.
I’m thankful to live in a region — the South in general and Tennessee in particular — where high school football is more than a sport. It’s a social event and very often it’s the focal point of the week for many people.
Make no mistake, I love it but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.
I realize it is not within my power to make any changes to any sport at any level. Let’s be honest, it’s barely within my power to change my oil.
However, if I was empowered to make changes, here are a few I would make to high school football in Tennessee:
• Division I would be made up of four classes and Division II would be one class. I know I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating: Tennessee does not need nine state champions in high school football.
Four classifications (and my feelings really wouldn’t be hurt with three classifications) are plenty for public schools especially when you consider that basketball, baseball, and softball are split into three classifications. If TSSAA has no compunction about forcing those sports into three classes, cutting football down to a meager four should not be an overwhelming proposition.
I realize of course I speak heresy because that would mean a loss of revenue for TSSAA — i.e. less playoff gate money — and that is an unpardonable sin.
Somewhere in Middle Tennessee heads just exploded.
And as unreasonable and radical as my thinking is, I maintain no private school should be given the playoffs as a participation award. With two classes for Division II, it’s not much of a stretch to use that illustration.
• No team would qualify for the playoffs without a winning record — or at least a non-losing record, meaning a .500 team could qualify. It’s laughable that a team can go 2-8 and still qualify for the playoffs. Teams with losing records qualify for the playoffs in each part of the state across the classifications every year.
Once again, there are too many classes of football and too many playoff spots to fill (see previous point). It’s the same with the explosion of college bowl games. There are now too many to have two quality teams in each bowl so instead of cutting the number of bowls they lower the standard for qualifying.
Fewer playoff spots would mean less likelihood of a losing team making the playoffs but just in case there could be a rule to prevent such from happening.
For example, let’s say the top two teams from each region (rather than the current four) make the playoffs. If the runner-up has a losing record, they miss the playoffs and their spot would then be filled by a winning team from another region as an at-large bid.
In the unlikely event there is no other qualifying team, then someone gets a walkover into the next round.
Now, I know there are some of you saying it will never work. I remind you people said the same thing to Christopher Columbus just before his fourth and fifth ships sailed off the edge of the Earth.
In the event that multiple teams have identical records there are a litany of tie-breakers which could be used — region record, record vs. common opponents, total points scored, etc. If nothing else, it could be decided simply by blind draw or a coin toss.
It could work.
Would it be a perfect system?
No, but it would be better quality football, especially in the first round. When was the last time a one seed lost to a four seed in the playoffs? It doesn’t happen very often and in fact, the opening round is usually a collection of blowouts.
That’s not good for either team and it’s not even entertaining for the fans. It’s just a playoff gate.
Hear that? Another head exploded in Middle Tennessee — it was loud too.
Have meaningful games in the first round, make each game mean something. Give people a reason to brave the weather to see a playoff game.
• Have a better system of distributing playoff passes. I’ll be honest this one is just for me. Yes, I freely admit that making my life easier is a cause we should all rally around and one of the best ways to do that is to fix the handling of playoff passes.
As it stands now, no one is allowed on the sideline or in the press box without the magic TSSAA-approved playoff pass. To acquire said pass, media member or whomever must get it from the athletic director or appointee thereof, at the host school.
Why not just give each school a set number of passes — like 20 or 25 — and let them distribute them in advance of the game? It would make road trips a little less stressful because no matter what someone promises you on the telephone, you don’t have a playoff pass until someone puts it in your hand.
Besides, the AD at the host school usually has his or her hands full just getting everything ready for the game. Being nagged by a visiting reporter(s) isn’t high on their priority list.
I don’t even see the need for a special pass for the playoffs.
We don’t need them for postseason basketball, baseball, softball, or volleyball.
I don’t know how, but maybe it has something to do with money (okay, that one wasn’t quite as loud), but it just seems to be an unnecessary step at a very busy time.
In any event, the magic day of opening kick-off is almost here and I’m looking forward to it.
Come out and support your favorite team this fall.
Feel free to mention my name to see if you get a 25 percent discount.
I’m not saying you’ll get one, but feel free to mention my name.