G. Michael Graham
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The argument makes sense, and is one I will not debate with people.
Six classes for Kentucky High School football has diluted the competition level and allowed the same teams to win the crown on a yearly basis.
I’ve heard it from Highlands and Newport Central Catholic supporters. Guest Fort Thomas Matters columnist and former Bluebird football player Will Chambers wrote about it in December and had some good points.
So here’s my two cents on the matter. As I’ve said before, I’ve covered high school sports in five states. Aside from Kentucky, the other four are Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama and Texas.
The bottom line is all playoff systems have their pros and cons. Here are some good reasons why the current system is good and should not be changed.
Allow 1-9 teams in or keep out 8-2 squads?
I said this years ago when I covered several squads in Tennessee for some different publications. I’d rather see a system that allows 1-9 teams (or in Kentucky’s case, two 0-10 teams in Clinton County and Phelps) into the playoffs than one that excludes an 8-2 team.
Just go across the river into Ohio. Ohio has had this point system I’ve never totally understood for years. It was worse before 1999 when the top four teams in each region qualified for the playoffs as opposed to eight because 10-0 teams sometimes didn’t make the playoffs.
Let’s say you’re in Division V (the second-smallest of six classes). You earn more points beating a Division III team that’s 4-6 as opposed to a Division VI team that is 7-3.
That system hurt my alma mater, Rockford Parkway, in 2007. Parkway finished 8-2, which was its best record in 32 years and missed the playoffs by one spot. Ohio added a seventh class for 2013 to alleviate this problem.
KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett and staff do not want to be responsible for keeping teams out of the playoffs. Tackett once told the Louisville Courier-Journal that years after graduating from high school, players will recollect making the playoffs as opposed to making it and losing 50-0. Now, that is debatable. But I see Tackett’s point.
Kentucky’s system is Clear-Cut:
At least in Kentucky, you finish in the top four in your district and you make the playoffs. Now, I know some people are laughing because 191-of-220 KHSAA schools with football teams qualified for almost 87 percent last year.
Kentucky and Indiana have almost identical systems. Indiana teams play nine games in the regular season before everyone qualifies for the playoffs. In Kentucky, you’re guaranteed a spot in the playoffs if you are in a four-team district like Highlands will be this upcoming season because Pendleton County dropped out of district competition.
But compared to Tennessee, wouldn’t you rather know for certain that you’re in as opposed to winning the last game of the regular season and waiting for the release of the playoff brackets from state athletic association? Average teams in Tennessee have had that fait since 2009.
Tennessee has a unique system that lets about half the teams in the playoffs. But here’s the catch. You play in three classes during the regular season before breaking off into six playoff classes. This was done to rekindle some old rivalries from the days of three classes and cut down travel time.
The top two teams in each district automatically make the playoffs. In the top class, that could be two 6A teams and the third-place 5A team may or may not make the playoffs. After taking the top two teams per district, teams qualify based on a number of factors from overall record to records against teams with winning records.
Is it Fair to Take Away Titles?
If Kentucky did go back to four classes, that would mean taking away a state championship from a school like Bowling Green or Louisville Central. That would not make people happy and I agree. A state championship is really something players remember for the rest of their lives.
The bottom line is titles still have to be earned no matter how many classes there are. During its 30-game playoff winning streak, I know Highlands has outscored opponents by 1,001 points for an average of just more than 33 points per game.
But it’s not like they haven’t been challenged during the run. Don’t forget in 2008, Tony Guidugli led the Bluebirds on a last-minute drive to beat Bryan Station, 28-22 in the first round of the playoffs. When Patrick Towles was a junior in 2010, Highlands held off a feisty Johnson Central squad led by tailback JJ Jude in Paintsville in the regional title game, 21-14. The Bluebirds also had to fend off Covington Catholic for the regional title game this past season, 28-13.
In the case of Newport Central Catholic, Somerset battled the Thoroughbreds hard in the state semifinals and Caldwell County challenged them in a classic 2A title game. NewCath definitely won’t take that ride for granted. Those teams could meet in the playoffs again this fall.
More challenges for Highlands are sure to come from teams like Lexington Catholic, Boyle County, Johnson Central and Warren East in the future. That’s what makes each year interesting and is the reason Dale Mueller and staff do not look at the past much.
In NewCath’s case, Covington Holy Cross rose up and knocked them off two years ago. Walton-Verona has been on the rise the last couple years so you just never know.