High schools

Stevens: Coaches never liked NCHSAA's pod system - or any playoff system

tstevens@newsobserver.comSeptember 16, 2013 

The North Carolina high school football coaches got what they asked for when the N.C. High School Athletic Association changed the playoffs beginning this fall by eliminating the pod system.

The NCHSAA went to the pod to reduce playoff expenses by grouping the qualifying teams into four groups in each bracket instead of into East and West. The pod cut expenses, but also increased the number of games between conference opponents.

Conferences are based on geography, so was the pod system and coaches disliked the pod a great deal.

I imagine the coaches won’t like this year’s system either. This year teams are seeded according to their conference finish and by overall records. Somebody will find flaws in the system.

Coaches not liking the current playoff system, whatever that system entails, has been one constant in North Carolina high school football for more than 50 years.

The playoffs had so little importance years ago that teams sometimes scheduled so many regular-season games that they were ineligible for the playoffs.

For years, teams had to win their conference to go to the playoffs.

That changed soon after Clayton and Millbrook played to a Capital Area 2A Conference tie in the mid-60s. The CAC coaches had to vote on which of the 9-0-1 teams would advance to the playoffs. Millbrook finished undefeated and uninvited. There were hard feelings 40 years later.

The playoffs were soon expanded and rules established that conference regular-season games had to have a winner. For a while, the team with the most yardage was declared the winner in a conference game that finished in a tie. A team was once knocked out of the playoffs by a holding penalty in the final minute.

After some 9-1 teams were excluded, there was a push to add more playoff berths.

The NCHSAA playoffs have been too long, too short, too inclusive and too exclusive. Sometimes at the same time.

There have been all sorts of permutations. There was even a separate state playoff for teams that didn’t qualify for playoffs.

When there were calls last year for the NCHSAA to return to the “old” playoff system, I wondered which “old” playoff system. I hoped the NCHSAA wouldn’t return to the system of the 1960s when there was no state champion, just two to four regional champs.

The pod was wonderful compared to stopping the playoffs at the regional level.

The pod, for all its faults, was very kind to the Triangle, even if its contributions were unappreciated.

I think there was a link between the pod and the area’s increased football success.

In the 40 years or so preceding the pod era, Broughton won a state football championship in 1970. Garner won in 1987 and Northern Durham won in 1993. Garner (1998), Northern Durham (1993) and Durham Riverside (2006) also had years when they lost in the championship game.

So from 1970 until 2010, beforethe pod was instituted, the area had five teams reach the NCHSAA 4A championship game.

In three years with the pod, Wake Forest-Rolesville (now Wake Forest) played in the 4AA title game in 2010 and Garner played in the 2011 4AA final. Durham Hillside won the 4A title in 2010.

Area 4A schools produced four semifinalists, three finalists and one state champion in the pod’s three years.

Some of those playoff rematches against not-so-good conference teams won’t look as detestable in hindsight.

But the pod is dead.

So I come to bury the pod, not to praise it. The evil playoff formats do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with the pod.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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