Thursday, November 5, 2009

UIL Football Playoff Tiebreaker Craziness

If you found this page with a search looking for Texas high school football playoff tie-breaker rules, well, the short answer is that you probably won't find them on the Internet. The UIL doesn't set the rules. Each district sets their own rules. Your best bet is to call your school's athletic director and ask him or her. Now, on with the story.

The Dallas Morning News' Matt Wixon identifies a wild playoff scenario in District 3-5A that involves a potential three way tie and an incentive for a coach to lose by a lot in order to have his team make the playoffs. That's not a typo. Lose by a little and you're out. Lose by a lot and you're in. Stupid, right? I don't use the word lightly. It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, most districts don't do it this way. Unwisely, the UIL allows each district's athletic directors to devise their own playoff tie-breaker rules.

I don't know who is to blame for the fiasco in District 3-5A. It's difficult to write rules for complex situations and anticipate all eventualities, so I don't blame the guy or guys in the district who suggested the tie-breaker rule. It does sound reasonable on its surface. No, I blame whoever is responsible for delegating this responsibility to the districts in the first place. If that's the UIL, then that's where the blame lies. If it's the athletic directors themselves who insist on having this power, then that's where the blame lies. In either case, this fiasco should prompt everyone to get it right next year.

For now, here's how it works in District 3-5A. If three teams tie for two playoff spots, they use best point differential of all three teams to fill the first playoff spot. Then they use the head-to-head result of the remaining two teams to fill the second spot. That leads to the crazy playoff scenario for Weatherford: "Weatherford is in with a win over Burleson or a loss to Burleson by more than 13 points."

It works out that way because if Burleson wins by more than 13 points, they'll have the best point differential of the three schools and take the first playoff spot. And Weatherford already beat Richland earlier in the season, so Weatherford will have the head-to-head advantage over Richland and take the final playoff spot.

But if Weatherford loses to Burleson by less than 13 points, then Richland has the point differential advantage and would make the playoffs and Burleson, having beaten Weatherford head-to-head, would get the last playoff spot, leaving Weatherford on the outside.

As crazy as it sounds, Weatherford is assured of a playoff spot if they just let Burleson run up the score. If Weatherford plays it straight and loses by a little, they're out. If UIL doesn't step in and define sensible and consistent playoff tie-breaker rules for all districts next year, then UIL is just as wack as District 3-5A's rules are this year.


Mark Steger said...

Well, Weatherford is out, losing to Burleson not by a lot, but by a little, 30-27. The coach probably feels good about having his team play for a win (in the game). Can't say I agree because he thereby played for a loss (in the season's playoffs). He just had his eye on the wrong prize.

Compare with a situation late in a game where a coach orders his quarterback to deliberately run back and out of the end zone for a safety. He gives up two points but puts his team in better position to hold on and win the game. It happens more frequently than you might think. In that case the game is the bigger prize than the safety. In Weatherford's case, the season's playoffs were the bigger prize than the last game of the season. The coach had his eye on the wrong prize.

Mark Steger said...

The source of the 2009 District 3-5A craziness lies in their rule that uses points to fill the first playoff spot, then head-to-head results to fill the second playoff spot. What they should have done was use points to *eliminate* the lowest standing team. In other words, points should always be used to eliminate, not advance. That way, a team's incentives are always to win, not lose, and by more points, not less.