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When it comes to Class 5A football and playoff qualification, the only thing constant for Southern Oregon football teams has been change.
Ashland head coach Charlie Hall to this day can only shake his head at past years of brain-numbing frustration over having to go through coin flips, Azzi Plans or winner-take-all matchups with Eagle Point, but it turns out he's not done.
Class 5A administrators got together with the Oregon School Activities Association and created a new system to be implemented this season. Unfortunately, it's not without its own issues.
Instead of a system that involves a handful of automatic qualifiers and two rounds of play-in games, as was the case in 2010, this year's playoff qualification plan removes automatic qualifiers from the spectrum and changes the all-inclusive format to where now five teams will have their season end with the regular season and not have a chance to advance.
But wait, it gets even more detailed.
Of those five teams that won't advance, three will come from the South Region, which includes teams from the Midwestern League, Intermountain Conference and Mid-Willamette Conference. The other two come from the North Region, which includes the Portland Interscholastic League, Northwest Oregon Conference and Columbia River Conference.
Also of note is the fact that no more than two schools from the same league in the South Region may be eliminated. If all three of the lowest ranked teams are in the same league, then the next lowest ranked team from another league would be eliminated.
After that, both North and South regions form two separate 16-team brackets, where the highest ranked teams play the lowest ranked teams in descending order (1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc.).
The winning teams from that Round of 32 beginning Nov. 4 will then be put in the official OSAA 16-team state playoff bracket, again by power rankings in highest to lowest order.
Power rankings will freeze this year after Saturday's games, at least one positive twist to the new system. The rest of it, however, is open for debate.
The reasoning behind moving things to North and South regions was purely financial and aimed at lessening the travel expenses for 5A programs who could find themselves traveling from one end of the state to the other depending on power rankings.
The problem with the new system, however, is in the regional setting itself and how that doesn't necessarily pave the way for the 16 best teams to advance to the final state playoff bracket.
When one looks at the regions in terms of power rankings, it's clear that the South Region is by far superior than the North. That doesn't mean there aren't outstanding teams in the North, top-ranked Sherwood is a prime example of that, but the overall numbers are overwhelmingly on the South's side.
Heading into last week's games, the bottom nine of the 37 teams were from the North. In this final week of the regular season, the six lowest teams are from the North, including the lowest ranked five all coming from the PIL. In contrast, seven of the top eight ranked teams are from the South.
"They're trying to save money on it but unfortunately I think the South has the dominant teams when you look at our conferences in the power rankings," said Hall. "We're faced with a tougher road in our sub-region in the South. There's going to be some battles when you're looking at 7 vs. 10 and those 8 vs. 9 games — even those with the 11s."
"When you look at those North seeds where the top play the lower seeds," added the Ashland coach, "to be perfectly frank, they're probably only going to have to play their starters for a half and then be fresher for the next round. Teams here in the South will have to battle for four quarters to sneak in against a very good football team."
Finances aside, the 5A administrators and OSAA should have held true to a formula of only allowing the best teams to advance to the initial play-in round if the all-inclusive model is not preferred. Using a regional approach, as they have done, means that at least four of the worst teams in the state will have a chance to potentially play for a state title, while others potentially ranked up to 10 spots higher will not.
And that's just for the qualifiers, it gets even worse when you consider that only eight teams per region will make it to the final state playoff bracket. Currently nine of the top 11 teams in the power rankings are from the South, meaning at least one realistic title contender will not make it to that final setup.
How would you like to be ranked 10th and 11th in the power rankings, as are Crescent Valley and Silverton currently, and potentially have that be your play-in matchup in order to reach the state playoffs. Given that league foes cannot play one another in the play-in round, the matchups could even be potentially worse as teams are shuffled around to make that work. For comparison, that same 8 vs. 9 matchup from the North would be Hermiston against Putnam, ranked Nos. 24 and 26, respectively.
No matter how it's broken down, there is little equity in the current qualification model beyond what stays in the 5A schools' pocket books — and, of course, those of the OSAA.
NORTH MEDFORD'S SENIOR NIGHT could have easily been considered freshman night last Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium. In the wake of such turmoil surrounding the Black Tornado program after the resignation last week of head coach Nate Becksted, interim head coach Tom Powell and the rest of the coaching staff have tried to do what they can to assure that better days are ahead.
As such, Powell made an interesting decision regarding who was on hand for Friday's game against Roseburg. He allowed members of the freshman team to be on hand and in uniform for the contest.
"The big thing we're telling the kids is we're laying the foundation for the future," Powell said after the game. "We've got a great freshman class and we had them on the sideline today. We said solidarity, baby, and that everybody's going to be out there so they can kinda see what it's like coming out of that tunnel and know that there's a future here at North Medford."
ROSEBURG HAD SOME BIG runs against North Medford in that game, but there was another run that created a buzz throughout the stadium last Friday. It seems someone robbed the main ticket gate at Spiegelberg during the first half by donning a mask and reaching into the booth to grab handfuls of cash before racing out of a nearby gate and down the Medford streets.
District sports information guru B.G. Gould asserted that "maybe $60" was pilfered, and some of it left in the wake as the robber fleed the scene. Security officials on hand were in hot pursuit in the moments that followed, but only one thing crept into Gould's mind regarding the incident.
"They should have waited a week," said Gould, alluding to this Friday's game that features No. 1 Sheldon against No. 3 South Medford in a battle of unbeatens for the Southwest Conference title. A packed house is expected for the key clash.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry