The OSAA changed the 6A state playoffs; did it get the result it wanted?
Now, with the 2022 Class 6A state football playoffs fading into the rear view mirror, we can begin to assess the new format implemented by the Oregon School Activities Association.
So what about it? Did the new format — essentially splitting the state’s top 32 Class 6A football teams into two brackets — achieve what the OSAA wanted it to accomplish?
Before we get to the answers, let’s review what the OSAA’s Executive Committee said it wanted to achieve. The OSAA, following up on work by its state championship committee and football ad hoc committee, said that creating more competitive first-round matchups was a major reason behind the change.
To find out if it did, however, you can’t just add up the first-round scoring differentials between teams — either in the Class 6A bracket (essentially for teams ranked 1-16), the Columbia Cup (for teams ranked 17-32) or both — and compare them to years past.
Here’s why. Teams in this year’s Class 6A bracket — they’re the teams that had a chance to win the traditional state championship — played a different kind of first-round game than they played in the past.
Since 2013, first-round matchups were set up this way — the No. 1 team in the state hosted the No. 32 team, the No. 2 team hosted the No. 31 team all the way down to the No. 16 team hosting the No. 17 team.
Before that, still utilizing a 32-team bracket, the OSAA used different methodologies to give the better teams and league champions some edge over their lower-ranked/lower-placing opponents in the first round, including home-field advantage.
Whatever the methodology, the football playoffs lasted five weeks from start to finish — first round, second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and championship.
But this year, with 6A teams split into two 16-team brackets, the OSAA basically eliminated the first round of the playoffs. Teams that reached the 6A championship in 2022 played 13 total games, while in years past, those teams played 14 games.
While the OSAA’s stated goal was to get rid of first-round blowouts, what they did instead was get rid of the entire first round. So to compare apples to apples, we should compare this year’s first-round games in the Class 6A bracket (which included 16 teams total) with last year’s second-round 6A games (again, with 16 teams total).
So here’s what the numbers say. In this year’s eight Class 6A first-round games, the point differential between winners and losers was 40 points per game. In last year’s eight Class 6A second-round games, the point differential between winners and losers was just 25 points per game.
In other words, last year’s round of 16 playoff contests were actually 15 points per contest closer than they were this year.
But wait! There’s more!
I acknowledge that the change to the playoffs was designed to create closer first-round playoff games, so even though it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s compare this year’s Class 6A first-round games (eight of them) to last year’s first-round games (16 of them).
Here’s what the numbers say. Again, in this year’s 6A first-round games, the point differential between winners and losers was 40 points per game. In last year’s 6A first-round games, the point differential between winners and losers was just 26 points per game.
In other words, last year’s first-round playoff contests were — wait for it — still two touchdowns per contest closer than they were this year, even though this year’s “first-round” games were analogous to previous second-round contests.
And even if we add in the eight first-round games of the Columbia Cup — comparing this year’s 16 first-round games to last year’s 16 first-round games — the point differential between winners and losers this year was 33 points per game, while in last year’s 6A first round, the point differential between winners and losers was 26 points per game.
In other words, this year’s first-round losers lost their games by a touchdown more than they did a year ago, even with the two-bracket split.
Over the past decade, the first-round point differentials look like this (with totals rounded to the nearest whole numer): 2022 – 40, 2021 – 26, 2020 – canceled, 2019 – 26, 2018 – 28, 2017 – 37, 2016 – 22, 2015 – 27, 2014 – 27, 2013 – 22. That means, with the new playoff format in place, this year’s first-round games in the championship bracket saw the biggest group of blowouts in a decade, with only 2017 close in the past 10 years.
So what’s the bottom line here? Unfortunately, it’s this — the new format shortened the seasons of every team in the 6A bracket (essentially the state’s best teams and league champions) by one game. At the same time, it extended the seasons of every team in the Columbia Cup — teams that likely would have been eliminated in the first round under the previous playoff format — by one or more games.
So the state’s best teams saw their seasons cut short by a game and — at least for this year — gave us bigger first-round blowouts than we had before the change.
To buy prints or digital downloads from West Linn, Lake Oswego or Lakeridge, go to milesvance.smugmug.com.