VHS tapes, typewriters and rotary telephones are pretty much obsolete, unless you collect them. Will district play for LHSAA sports join a list of nonessential items within a few years and end schools’ collections of a traditional title?
The process is already beginning in some sports, including basketball and soccer, with teams opting to play just one round of district games and a district tournament near the end of the year. In the case of District 8-2A, there will be just a tournament, no home or away games.
This is hard for some of us to wrap our brains around. Those who like high school sports to follow a traditional path were forced into a huge adjustment when the LHSAA split its championships for football, basketball, baseball and softball along select/nonselect school lines.
The rationale here is simple. Schools in most LHSAA sports get their playoff placement from power ratings. Remember those days when teams were placed on playoff brackets based on their district finish? Yeah, I may or may not have been using a dot-matrix printer when that was still a thing. By the way, dot-matrix printers are still being made. Internet searches tell you some obscure things.
Just how close are district games to becoming some obscure statistic? That probably depends on who you ask. A reduction or elimination of district games achieves one objective I hear about every two years when the LHSAA reclassifies its schools — it reduces the amount of travel for sports such as volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball that have traditionally require two rounds with home-and-home games.
The argument always is, “That works fine for football, because you only play one game and it is on a Friday. When we play (fill-in-the-blank) we don’t get home until 11:30 p.m. on a school night.”
But there is another reason, one some coaches are a little more reluctant to talk about. The reduction or elimination of district games allows teams the freedom to construct a schedule tailor-made to boost power ratings.
Of course, there are exceptions. Football provides a great example. Schools typically sign two-year contracts to coincide with the two-year LHSAA classification cycle. If you schedule a team that typically wins between 7 to 9 games, you are in good shape. Until the team that was 8-2 before you scheduled them limps in with a 2-8 record.
For now, the moral to the story is this — no system is ever perfect. The difference between the old playoff system and the power ratings-based system is pretty clear. The old one let you know where every team stood using a mathematical formula.
It quite frankly would not work now because you need to classify select and nonselect schools for separate playoffs, even though they play in districts together. However, now the system drives the process as schools look for ways to get the best power ratings.
Of course, the main selling point of power ratings was that it would provide a true measure of which teams were the best. Now schools look to use their schedules to prove that point before the playoffs ever begin.
I personally would hate to see district play eliminated because I believe winning a district title still holds some value. Will it be valuable enough?