Ben's Babbles: In the playoffs, craziness can, and should, happen

November 5, 2011

With the No. 4-ranked Hood River Valley boys soccer team trailing 28th-ranked Franklin midway through the second half Thursday night, the thought began to creep into my mind: In the playoffs, pretty much anything can happen.

Then with the Eagles seemingly in imminent danger of not making the state bracket for the first time since 2005, a senior who had barely seen the field this season connected on his first two career goals in a span of three minutes to get the Eagles the win.

Yep, in the playoffs anything can indeed happen.

I may not (and probably never will be) on the OSAA's six-class system or the incredibly confusing power rankings playoff model it adopted this season as an attempt to justify six classes for high school athletics, but I'll give the folks in Wilsonville credit, it has helped to create some interesting games.

Sure, we have to deal with four-team leagues and bizarre hybrids in Central and Southern Oregon to make this whole thing work, but for moments like Tuesday and Thursday night in Hood River, it's worth it.

On Tuesday the Hood River Valley volleyball team made it to the state playoffs for the second consecutive year. If the Eagles were still at 6A and still stuck in the uber-competitive Mount Hood Conference, they would at best be hoping for that fifth playoff spot the MHC had when they were in the league.

Getting that spot earned you the right for a prompt shellacking at the hands of the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

With the play-in game, at least they have a chance to enjoy the experience before being sent off to Coos Bay.

In the old system, Franklin would not have even been on the field with the chance to go to the state playoffs. The Quakers would have been wrapping up their league season and moving on to basketball practice. Instead, they came incredibly close to pulling off a stunning upset in Hood River Thursday night.

I was glad to see a team not simply being offered up as the sacrificial lamb and instead put up a fight against a much stronger opponent.

With the state playoffs now about to start for most teams next week, it would be worth it to consider a few other tweaks to the system.

At the 6A level league winners are automatic qualifiers. This should be extended to 5A as well, as currently winning a league title does not get you squat. In fact Hood River, which won the league title in girls soccer in the Columbia River Conference, is ranked lower than second-place finisher Hermiston.

It's understandable given that Hermiston lost only one game all season (a loss to HRV) and the Eagles started the year 0-6, but the point of non-league games is that they are not supposed to count the way league games do.

Even if it is not practical for automatic qualifiers, league winners should still get a points bonus in the rankings.

Finally, I would make one more change across all classifications.

Prior to state finals site tournaments (such as Liberty High School for volleyball, Jeld-Wen Field for football and the Rose Garden for basketball) teams should be lumped by region.

This would save time and travel costs for all schools.

For instance, after the first round of play-in games, teams should play another team in their region (north or south at 5A) to get to the finals tournament.

While the winner may still get pummeled by a No. 1-ranked team in the following round, they would not have to drive for almost a day to do it.

The state playoffs would then involve eight teams, who have gone through the best competition in their region to get there.

I can see the merits of the OSAA's ideas, but if I have to take more than five minutes to explain how a power rankings works (as I've had to do on several occasions) it's just too complicated.

I don't think my tweaks would make the system perfect - nothing ever will - but if anything can give fans more games like Thursday's, it works for me.

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