It's that time of year again. With only a couple of games left in the Texas high school football regular season, everyone starts considering which teams will earn playoff berths. Who's in? Who's out? Corbett Smith of The Dallas Morning News highlights the situation in District 9-5A, which includes mostly Frisco schools, which just might end in a seven-way tie for first place. All schools would share the championship, but three of them wouldn't make the playoffs. How crazy is that?
After the jump, what's wrong with this?
First, what's wrong with the journalism?
In one of the multitude of scenarios that could happen over the two weeks, all seven could finish tied for first place with 5-3 records — setting off a cavalcade of tiebreakers to determine the district’s four playoff seeds.
Source: The Dallas Morning News.
Smith fails to point out just how unlikely a seven-way tie is, even in District 9-5A with two games left in the 2014 season. Eight games would all have to end in a certain way for that seven-way tie to materialize. Assuming the district really is evenly balanced and each game is a toss-up, that puts the odds of a seven-way tie at 1 in 256. That is, if this situation repeats itself each year for the next two centuries, we might expect to see a seven-way tie once, or maybe twice. In other words, don't bet on it happening.
Smith also fails to explain how a seven-way tie-breaker might work. This brings me to something even more wrong here than the journalism. One of my pet peeves with Texas high school football is that the UIL, which governs the sport, doesn't have any rules for this. Or, rather, UIL leaves playoff tie-breaker rules up to the athletic directors running each district.
What can go wrong? Lots. The last time we looked at this, in 2009, Weatherford High School missed the playoffs by a tie-breaker rule because they didn't lose their last game by enough points. Reread that. That's right. Weatherford would have made the playoffs if they lost their last game by thirteen or more points. Lose by less than thirteen and they were out of the playoffs. They lost by three. They were out.
If you doubt that knowledgeable, experienced athletic directors could find themselves with such a crazy system, read the details in that 2009 blog post. The tie-breaker system they had agreed to before the season started sounded reasonable, on paper. In reality, it was wack.
As far as I've heard, UIL still doesn't have uniform, sensible tie-breaking rules in place. Let's hope one of the 255 scenarios in District 9-5A that doesn't result in a seven-way tie ends up happening this year, so we don't have a repeat of the farce that caused Weatherford to sit out the playoffs in 2009. And let's hope UIL does something about it so it never happens again.
Update: Thursday night, after the above was written but before it was published, two of the eight key games were played. One fell the right way for the seven-way tie to materialize. One did not. We won't have Corbett Smith's seven-way tie this year. That shouldn't let UIL off the hook.