Beginning in 2014, the first year the North Coast Section Division 5 football playoff bracket was expanded from eight teams to 16, there have been 14 first-round byes. In other words, out of 32 potential first-round contests, there were only enough qualified teams to play in 18 games.
This year, like last year, the top four seeds won’t play in the first round. In 2015, it was the top five seeds who sat idle for two weeks.
That means top seed St. Patrick-St. Vincent, along with No. 2 Middletown, No. 3 Kelseyville and No. 4 Clear Lake, will all be sitting home Friday instead of playing football.
And area coaches are a little bummed out by the byes.
“I really don’t know anyone who would want a bye at this point in the season,” said Bill Foltmer, coach of the North Central I champion Middletown Mustangs (8-1 overall and 7-0 in NCLI).
The expansion of the bracket starting in 2014 makes for great stories, like Elsie Allen High making its first-ever postseason appearance in football Friday, thanks to a No. 12 seed. But are the slew of byes every year, along with teams with losing records making the playoffs, an indication that that bracket is too big?
We can make that argument, but it’s what participating schools wanted, NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon said.
“When we expanded Division 5, NCS staff spoke against it,” he said.
“These are things that have happened over the course of time, so our schools can’t complain that the brackets are too big. That’s the way they voted,” he said.
Presumably compounding the issue for this year only is the midseason decision to relax postseason requirements after the deadly wildfires last month canceled games for teams throughout the region. Teams that would not have made the cut in years past were given the OK this season after the argument was made that some could have reached the required .500 threshold but didn’t have the chance because of canceled games.
For instance, under the original rules, the No. 11 seed, Willits (1-8 overall, 1-5 NCLI), would not have made it, nor would No. 9 Cloverdale (3-6 overall, 2-5 in NCL I).
So it’s all left a handful of area coaches with some unwanted time on their hands.
“The biggest thing — it’s a daily thing — is I just try to keep the pace of practices up; don’t give them time to sit around,” Clear Lake coach Mark Cory said. “Once it slows down, especially this time of the season, it feels like you are wrestling a bear.”
Erick Larsen, head coach at Kelseyville, said he, too, is no fan of the week off this late in the season. Had his team — which finished 7-2 and 6-1 in NCL I — been riddled with injury, he might have a different opinion, but his guys are healthy.
“Year to year, I think it’s different, but this year we are healthy so I wish were playing,” he said.
That said, he warned against viewing this year, with the four byes, as the new norm.
“I do think that this is only a couple of years into the competitive adjustments of the divisions,” he said. “Let the systems work and let the divisions work themselves out.”