Area head coaches weigh in on football playoff changes

Matthew GorrySports Writer

December 20, 2012

ELKIN - When the North Carolina High School Athletic Association held its winter meetings in Chapel Hill earlier this month, the Board of Directors changed one of the most unpopular and controversial high school sports systems in the state.

The infamous “pod” system for the state football playoffs - which has notoriously paired top teams together in early rounds to save money on travel, among other things - has been eliminated in six of North Carolina’s eight classifications of football for the 2013 postseason.

According to the new method laid out by the governing body, classifications 4AA, 4A, 3AA, 4A, 2AA and 2A will no longer fight for the respective state championships through the “pods,” but rather a traditional seeding (1-through-16) method, similarly used by college basketball. The 1AA and 1A divisions will continue to use the “pods” because of the “extreme travel that can happen in those classifications,” according to the NCHSAA.

Originally adopted in 2010, the “pod” system was set forth to cut down on travel time and expenses by grouping postseason teams together based on geography, not primarily by record and body of work. Clumping by location often paired conference foes together in the first or second rounds.

Elkin ran into that problem this past season when they were matched up with Mountain Valley Conference opponent Alleghany in the opening round of the 1A playoffs. Head coach Scott Wood believes the same problems with familiar teams and travel would happen regardless of the system for the smallest classification.

“The thing that we’ve ran into somewhat over the years is some of those teams, like Andrews, has come all the way down here in the first round,” he explained. “But last year there was a possibility that someone like us or Alleghany could have went all the way to Murphy, even with the ‘pod’ system. Rosman came down here second round and that is a pretty good drive.

“I know they’re trying to save what they can on money, but bottom line, you just have to play who they tell you to play. I try and not think too much about it,” Wood added.

With the 1A and 1AA schools spread out across the state, Wood added there would be travel regardless.

“I don’t know if it makes a lot of difference for us. Even though we’re in the ‘pod’ system now, there is still some pretty good travel there,” he continued. “Those small schools are so spread out in some places that it’s going to be travel regardless. I guess they’re trying to do what they can to try and eliminate that travel, but with matching up small schools, you’re always going to have some issues with travel and that kind of thing.

“But to win it, you have to beat everybody. I’m not one to complain, we just play whoever they tell us to play,” Wood added.

Starmount has seen the problems with the much-maligned system first-hand the past several years, often meeting top programs early on despite a conference championship, an undefeated regular season and a No. 1 seed in the “pod.”

In 2011, the Rams were awarded the top overall seed with a perfect 10-0 mark in the regular season but were paired against a tough East Lincoln squad (7-4) in the opening round. Starmount was the only No. 1 overall seed to play a team with a winning record in the first round.

“The other problem with the pod is they say they’re saving money on travel, and it has, but we’ve had to play some quality teams early on,” head coach Scott Johnson said. “A couple years in a row there we weren’t rewarded at all for being the No. 1 seed. We’re getting stuck with people who can flat play in the first round. When Jake Barr was a senior, we had to play East Rutherford in the first round and they could flat play.

“They say we’re saving money, but when we have to play somebody and get knocked out early, the school is getting beat out of gate money and concession money and other things. I’m really glad they’re getting rid of it,” he added.

Johnson, a Board member of the Football Coaches Association, said he was in the meeting when it was originally brought up in 2010.

“I was in the Football Coaches Association meeting when it was brought up, and it was brought up for little 1A,” he explained. “Elkin has had to play teams from all over the world, so they proposed it just for little 1A to help with their travel. And the state had never done anything, not to my knowledge, specifically for one division.

“We’ve asked two or three times for them to get rid of the ‘pod’ system. We felt like it wasn’t going to happen unless they did it right here with this new realignment starting. So they proposed it again just to have it in 1A,” Johnson added.

Unfortunately for Johnson and the Rams, who are dropping down to 1A in time for the 2013 season and 1AA for the postseason with this new realignment, they will not get to benefit from the change.

“It’s just bad timing for us when we’re dropping down to 1AA. But at the same time, I’m ready to see some 1AA playoff teams and get away from some of these folks that we’ve been playing,” Johnson said. “For the bigger schools, I’m sure they’re absolutely tickled to death. If we we’re staying 2A, I’d be tickled to death. We’re not, so it doesn’t really help us.”

For more information on the new playoff system or about the governing body, visit nchsaa.org.

Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or mgorry@heartlandpublications.com.