Football: Local coaches react to proposed playoff plan for 5A

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Class 5A football teams Legacy and Fairview, and also Boulder, could see a revamping of their playoff system come spring of 2019.

For the past several years, the prospect of any football team outside of a very select group of programs in Class 5A to make a state championship was viewed as a pipe dream.

The lack of parity that exists in Colorado’s upper-most classification of the sport was laid out for everyone to see in a recent article by Ryan Casey, editor of CHSAANow.com, in which he identified that since 2014 just 12 programs in total have made the quarterfinal round of eight teams — a sample size of 40 possibilities.

If a new policy is adopted, however, there may be more teams in line to compete for a state championship.

A group of school administrators met Wednesday to discuss the adoption of a 6A football playoff bracket — a breakaway bracket from the regular-season 5A competition that everyone would still be classified under for the sake of the ratings percentage index that is used to help determine the playoff teams.

In simple terms, the top eight 5A teams according to RPI after the season plays out would break off into their own three-round postseason bracket dubbed ‘6A’. The remaining 16 teams to make the 5A field would then be able to compete in their own bracket for a trophy.

The logistics of having to create new leagues goes away with the proposal, and an environment that on its surface creates more chances for really good teams to fight for a title is born.

“I think it levels the playing field, because it gives those elite teams that are going to compete anyways a bracket to play in and gives everybody else an opportunity,” Boulder head coach Ryan Bishop said — the news of his official hiring as the Panthers coach also was announced on Thursday. “It feels like there’s light at the end of the tunnel now.”

While the lower classifications have seen one or two programs remain constant in their chances to win — Pueblo East in 3A comes to mind having appeared in four of the past five championship contests — the enrollment numbers at those schools certainly does not have the same disparity as that with the 5A programs. Public 5A schools range from 1,825 students (Poudre) all the way up to 3,600 (Cherry Creek).

With only 40 schools of the 5A enrollment qualifications — Valor Christian and Mullen notwithstanding as private schools — it’s easy to see why the competition has been top-heavy for years.

“The caliber of play is still going to be high, and that’s what we want to strive for,” Bishop added. “I would say that all those among those top teams would want to compete to be in that elite bracket so to speak.”

“At the beginning of it all, everyone gets a chance to be in the top eight — but at the end of things, if you end up nine to 24, you’ve got a chance to do something and there’s some really good teams right there, still,” longtime Fairview coach Tom McCartney said. “If you look at the college level, there’s only four (teams in the College Football Playoff National Championship) and everyone else gets a bowl. With this, you still get a tournament and at the end a chance to fight for a state title.”

While the idea on paper presents itself as something that might go on without a hitch, there are those who are skeptical. Legacy coach Corey Heinz, who has experience coaching in the hub of football that has become South Denver while at Highlands Ranch, said he could see some things arising that throws wrenches in the plan.

“Honestly, I understand the need for something but this is not a proposal that I would get behind,” Heinz said. “I just don’t like the idea of separating teams after the regular season because there are too many variables at play.

“I mean, what if you had a Christian McCaffrey(-type player) that is hurt for five weeks, and you lose a couple of games and all the sudden you’re ranked ninth when you have the best team in the state. You get to play for the 5A championship but not the 6A title? If you have lost a couple league games in a tough league, and you have another tough league game ahead, do you lose that game knowing you’ll get a better seed in the 5A bracket versus winning the game to be struggling to win a playoff game in the 6A bracket (as a lower seed)? There’s just a lot of variables to account for.”

The plan is set to be discussed over the next few months, and CHSAANow.com said that a recommendation for the future classification system could come prior to the Legislative Council meeting in April.

“I think schools just need to get more creative in the ways they are going to compete,” Heinz said. “But I do get why it’s a popular idea.”

Adam Dunivan: dunivana@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/AdamDunivan24