AHSAA playoff system needs reform

Published 3:39 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Most states take the easy way out — you take the teams in the local area, pool them together, take the top from that pool to play the neighboring pool and pit the North vs. South. The winner is a state champion. Sounds good, right? Try again.

Across the board, playoff reform is needed in the state of Alabama. Pelham’s loss at Hoover April 9 proves it.

Many solutions are being tossed around such as a field of 64 teams or a regional scenario like college baseball. However, one small change that could make a big impact is the addition of a wildcard or wildcards.

Pelham was ranked No. 22 in the nation when it lost two games to Oak Mountain and Hoover in the final weeks of the regular season. The losses were the only ones the Panthers collected in the state of Alabama, finishing the year 24-6.

Now, imagine if you told the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox, “Sorry, you didn’t make the playoffs.” Imagine if Boston had lost a few games late, but still had the best overall record of non-division winners. Would they have been told, “You’re not this year’s Wild Card” just because they lost a couple of games late?

You can’t compare those scenarios completely, because the systems are different.

But this needs to be understood: every year, the teams in Class 6A, Area 10 are among the state’s best. Look at Oak Mountain, who came alive in the Gulf Shores tournament during Spring Break, or Thompson who won the Metro Tournament with wins over Spain Park and Hoover. Spain Park started the season with the second-best 6A record, behind Pelham.

The fact that any of those teams are staying home from the playoffs is ridiculous, but even more so for Pelham.

Any team with six or less losses in its state classification, should get an automatic bid in the playoffs, no matter where that team finishes in its area. At least four to eight wildcards should be established to balance the level of play.

Again, such a small move and yet such a large impact. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Outside the Lines is a weekly opinion column.