By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Ask Eric Swenson, and you’ll find out quickly he’s no fan of the current high school football playoffs system.
In fact, you don’t even have to ask.
“We beat (District 14A champion) Trenton and (runnerup) Union City, and we’re still having to come to Union City and play in the second round if we make it that far?” the Huntingdon head coach responded when a mere, “Congratulations coach,” was offered by this reporter as a conversation starter after Swenson’s team hammered previously undefeated Dresden in the team’s regular season finale last Friday.
“It’s just crazy,” the coach said.
Far be it for many folks to disagree with the Huntingdon skipper’s evaluation at the present setup.
As it has in each of the previous three seasons since it was adopted, the ‘Z-plan’ — the common G-rated described version of the TSSAA postseason lay-out — has raised the ire of many coaches and fans alike with a series of head-scratching moves and maneuvers that were revealed with the release of this year’s playoff brackets in six public school classification brackets.
Swenson, whose 8-2 Huntingdon team is ranked fifth in Class 1A with losses to two other ranked teams but with wins over three Top 10 foes, was not among the two automatic qualifiers from District 13A due to a tie-breaker that broke a three-way deadlock for the top spot and eventually relegated the Mustangs to No. 3 in that pecking order.
While one might argue that the Ponies determined their own fate in that scenario, it’s tough to come up with a legitimate debate of how Huntingdon — with a better record than Union City and a victory over the Tornadoes during the regular season — should have to revisit War Memorial Stadium for a possible rematch in Round 2 of the playoffs.
While UC isn’t about to relinquish its host rights for next week’s game against either Huntingdon or Lake County, Tornado head coach Darren Bowling can see Swenson’s point.
“I’d be mad, too, if I were in his shoes,” Bowling claimed. “I don’t understand much at all about this system.”
In addition to Huntingdon’s complaint, consider these others:
• In a system supposedly tweaked to keep teams with mediocre or worse records from making it into the postseason, the 24-team Class 1A bracket has two teams below .500 in the field, and seven others at 5-5.
District champion and perennial power South Pittsburg, with losses to three ranked teams from higher classifications, was a district champion and automatic qualifier, but still a No. 3 seed because of those setbacks. Two other automatic qualifiers, Nashville Christian and Eagleville, are three- and four-seeds, respectively.
• In Class 2A, Trenton, which dethroned Humboldt as District 14A champion and did not lose a league game while losing to ranked Milan, Huntingdon and Dyersburg, is a three-seed that will have to play a first round game — a rematch vs. H’boldt.
In East Tennessee, 9-1 Silverdale was an automatic qualifier, but seeded fifth and will be on the road for a first round matchup.
• Class 3A has two teams below .500, six more at 5-5 and an 8-2 Chattanooga Tyner team as a fifth seed and on the road.
Likely the biggest howling in the Triple-A ranks is coming from defending champion and currently third-ranked Christian Academy of Knoxville — a one-loss team whose only setback was a three-point loss vs. No. 1 Alcoa. CAK is a third seed for the playoffs and would be on the road for a second round game.
• Just down the road in Dyersburg, the Trojans are rightfully hot. A 9-1 regular season with its only loss to No. 2 ranked and unbeaten Covington could get the Black and Gold no better than a sixth seed in the Class 4A bracket. The Trojans will play on the road in Round 1 at Trezevant in Memphis.
There are three sub-.500 teams, and 9-1 Dekalb is a four-seed, while White House posted a 5-5 regular season record and is a No. 2 seed.
• In Class 5A, reigning state champion Henry County (8-2) could do no better than a five-seed and first round road game. The Patriots’ two losses came vs. No. 1 Beech and ranked Clarksville Northeast.
Perhaps the biggest injustice came, however, when Cleveland was originally penciled into the bracket, only to be informed some seven hours later that a mistake in a tie-breaker involving a team from North Carolina would knock them out — to be replaced by Sullivan South.
To be fair, this is not the doing of the TSSAA — the state’s governing body of high school athletics — as a whole.
A nine-member Board of Control that represents every area of the state adopted the plan three years ago and has helped tweak its many problems every offseason since then.
And despite the unanimous recommendation of the TSSAA administration to revert to a five-classification system that was in place from 1993-2008, the board voted 5-4 this summer to keep the current six-class, Z-plan system in place four more years.
The “unhappy” line likely is forming behind Huntingdon’s Swenson.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 10.31.12