If ever there was an argument for drastically shrinking the number of teams allowed into the High School Football Playoffs the mess surrounding this year's field--and the delay that is proving to be unfair to nearly everyone who qualified--would be it. Usually, we have an idea of who plays who, where and when by this time--but Divisions 3 thru 7 weren't posted by the WIAA until after 7:00 last night. Teams in Divisions 1 and 2 still have no idea who they are playing--just three days before the games are set to be played.
The mess is due exclusively to one school--the Messmer/Shorewood co-op team--which is suing the WIAA over an eligibility issue. Messmer dropped out of its conference without WIAA approval in 2007--and was placed on probation by the administration for four years--starting the next season. The first three years of that suspension, Messmer/Shorewood never won the requisite number of games to be eligible for the postseason--but this year they have (in their own minds anyway) and they want a judge to force the WIAA to include them in the playoff field. An injunction blocking the establishment of the playoff field and setting of the brackets has been issued by the judge--putting the playoff process on hold for every other team in the state.
We can argue the merits of deciding sports-related issues in the court of law rather than on the field of play--but what really gets my goat in this case is that Messmer/Shorewood doesn't even have a winning record. They finished their regular season at 4-4 (playing one less game than the rest of the state due to scheduling problems). But because they went 4-2 in their conference, they are technically eligible for postseason play under the WIAA's less-than-strenuous playoff qualification process. What is really sad is that M/S is far and away the largest school in their conference--which features mostly small suburban Milwaukee private schools--none of whom are football powerhouses.
So now, truly playoff-worthy teams like Kimberly and Appleton North--who won all nine of their games--or went 8-1 in the regular season are forced to sit around wait to find out who they play in their first round contests. You could say that since everyone in those divisions are in the same boat, the spirit of competition isn't being hurt--but it certainly is not the way to handle something as important as a chance to win a state championship. My point is that we'd be ready to roll with the brackets and matchups in place by now if the field of playoff qualifiers was cut by at least half (and even better 2/3's) to make the playoffs more of a special acheivement and reward teams that actually accomplish something.