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Last year for football experimentPosted Monday, August 15, 2011, at 6:31 AM
Football practice kicks off Monday for the Poplar Bluff Mules and new coach Mark Barousse with the season opener just three weeks away.
Of course the real season for Missouri high school football doesn't start until the middle of October when teams begin district play. That will soon change.
Starting next fall, districts will turn into a bracket-style playoff and every game on the schedule will count.
Districts will be set up much like now, based on geographical location, but will feature eight teams instead of four. Those eight teams will be seeded based on how they perform during the previous nine games. The top seeds will host throughout the district playoff leading to a championship game, the winner of which advances to the state quarterfinals.
The new playoff plan is a giant leap for MSHSAA, which didn't even have a state championship in football until 1968, but it has critics, who are leery of the point system and say there will be half as many district champions.
But unlike the current system, which has advanced the champ and runner-up from a four-team round-robin style playoff, the new plan is closer to that of the other MSHSAA sports.
Schools will also be able to schedule all nine games -- currently it's only the first seven weeks -- and those regular-season games will soon count for something. The seeding of the district will be based on the performance of teams during the first nine weeks. Teams will earn points for:
* Wins, losses and ties;
* Playing larger schools;
* Strength of schedule;
* The point differential of each game up to 13 points.
The point system will be tracked weekly by MSHSAA but it will only be used to seed the teams for the district. And if there are two teams with consecutive seeds that have played each other they can appeal the order and the rest of the district will vote. (Say if Cape Central is seeded 1 and Sikeston 2 but Sikeston won the meeting earlier in the season, the district teams can vote Sikeston into the top seed.)
Week 10 will see the top four seeds hosting the bottom four seeds (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, ect.) with the gate receipts ($5 admission) split 60-40 between the two schools and MSHSAA assigning the officials. The game will be played on a Friday, unless the schools agree on a Thursday kickoff, with the district semifinal Wednesday and the championship the following Monday night.
Gone will be those pesky Thursday night road trips to West Plains or, like this season for the Mules, Seckman.
Based on results last year, the Mules would have been the sixth seed and had to travel to third-seeded Parkway West for Week 10. Dexter would have been the fourth seed hosting Lutheran South in Class 3 while Malden would have been the No. 2 seed hosting St. Pius X of Festus.
The expanded schedule can also feature new opponents and schools could extend their schedules beyond the regular two-year contract, but that might not change since MSHSAA reclassifies schools every two years based on enrollment.
Poplar Bluff will play conference rivals Cape Central, Jackson, Sikeston and Farmington in 2012 along with Union, Dexter, Northwest-House Springs, Normandy and Chaminade.
The Mules have won just five district titles since 1968 despite winning records in 22 of those years. The last title came in 2000 under Barousse but Poplar Bluff has a 13-19 record in district play after he left.
Barousse's teams lost just four district games in his five years but only twice did the Mules advance to the state playoffs in that time. Under the current format, which ends after this season, his teams would have been a perfect 5-for-5 in reaching the postseason.
This fall the Mules host their first two district games against Jackson (Oct. 14) and Rockwood Summit (Oct. 21) before playing at Seckman. By winning two of those games Poplar Bluff can reach the state playoffs even with eight losses.
And this system seemed like a good idea why?
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Brian Rosener has been the sports editor for the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff, Mo. since December 2001. He was born and raised in St. Louis, where he attended Lindbergh High School and Webster University. He is married to Jennifer, a Poplar Bluff native, has a son Jack, 11, who is a much better golfer and swimmer, and a dog named Satchel.