The current and future start date for high school football practices in Wisconsin are not ideal, let's get that out in the open right away. For this year, equipment was handed out on August 1st, with practice starting on August 2nd. Next year, those dates get one day earlier, and in 2018 the equipment hand out would be July 30th and the first practice on July 31st.
Ideally, the first day of practice would be more around August 10th or somewhere in that vicinity. There are some who claim that participation numbers are down as a result of the early start date based on anecdotal evidence. That may be the case in some areas, but statewide, participation was up in 2015, the last year that data is available. It will be interesting to see the data that is available after the 2016 season to see if there is any sizable decrease. However, as I've said before, there is also no information or data that equates participation rates going up or down based on season start date.
The reasons the current start date can't change, while still maintaining 9 regular season games, 224 playoff teams, and the state finals at Camp Randall Stadium are for another article (though it has very little to do with deer hunting as some believe), but there has been some talk of reducing the playoff field to allow the start date to move back.
I have heard very little support amongst coaches for reducing the playoff field. However, at a recent WIAA Area Meeting in Antigo, Jeremy Mayo of RiverNewsOnline.com estimated that 40% of athletic directors in attendance showed support for the idea of reducing the playoffs.
Quite honestly, even this amount of support, which would not be enough to make such a change anyways, is very surprising. With very little coach support and no overwhelming administrative support, I don't see reducing the playoff field being introduced and certainly not passed.
However, what would happen if the field was reduced from 224 to 112? Let's take a look at some of the data, shall we?
One of the comments you often hear when it comes to the possibility of reducing the field is that there are few upsets and the #7 or #8 seeds rarely win first round games, so what difference would it make?
The WIAA began seeding regional groupings 1-8 by coach vote in 2012. It is difficult to reverse engineer the full playoff field for the 2012-2014 seasons due to the extensive tiebreaking procedures involved in determining qualifying teams. However, we can identify first round upsets based on seeding much easier.
In 2012, 26 of the 112 lower-seeded teams won on the road over higher-seeded teams. That included six #7 seeds and a pair of #8 seeds.
For 2013, there were a total of 23 lower-seeded teams winning on the road, including a pair of #7 seeds.
The 2014 data shows 19 lower-seeded teams winning, with one #8 seed.
In 2015, 25 lower-seeded teams claimed victory on the road in Level 1, including seven #7 seeds.
To be clear, there are some of those lower-seeded teams that would still have qualified for the playoffs even if the field had been reduced to 112, as the qualifying procedures do not impact the seeding procedures. Still, it gives us an idea of just how common it is for lower-seeded teams, who likely would not have made the playoffs in a 112-team field, to get a victory.
Another way to look at the possibility of reducing the playoff field is to review the records of teams in the state title game. In the last four years, 13 teams advanced to a championship game with two or more losses, meaning they would have been in danger of missing the playoffs in a 112-team field. In 2013, both Division 4 champion Winneconne and D4 runner-up Platteville would have missed the playoffs entirely if the field had been limited to 112 teams.
While reverse-engineering the full playoff field across multiple seasons would be very difficult, I did review the 2015 season to identify the impact of a reduced number of qualifiers.
Using the current WIAA qualification criteria, any teams that finished with the following conference records would have been excluded from the playoffs in a 112-team field:
You'll notice the asterisk above, as the Brodhead/Juda Cardinals finished 4-2 but were considered the Rock Valley-South Conference champion and thus were guaranteed a spot. Please note that for WIAA playoff qualification purposes, in the event of a tie at the top of league standings, each league must have a tie-breaking procedure to identify one official conference champion for playoffs.
There were 104 teams that finished with conference winning percentages of .750 or higher. Brodhead/Juda joins the field as the 105th team, while Hurley is in by virtue of its overall record as an Independent.
That leaves just six spots left. Those teams would come from a group of 28 clubs that finished 5-2 in conference play. To determine which six of the 28 get in, the first tiebreaking procedure is "combined won-lost percentage (conference games only) of conference opponents they have defeated". In essence, this rewards teams for beating better conference foes.
Peshtigo had the highest tiebreaker number, as the teams they beat in conference play, which included crossovers against the Northern Lakes, had 17 league victories. Wilmot (14), Bloomer (13), and Menomonie (13) secure spots as well, bringing our total to 110.
For the final two spots, Cochrane-Fountain City, Germantown, and Waukesha West are tied with a number of 12. We have to go all the way to the tiebreaker that takes a look at win/loss percentage against the playoff field, as determined in previous steps. Waukesha West went 2-1 against the new field, getting in. Germantown was 1-1, while CFC was just 1-2, so the final spot goes to Germantown in our hypothetical 112-team field.
So where does that leave us?
If a reduced 112-team field had been used in 2015, 34 teams (30%) that actually did make the playoffs in the 224-member field and won at least one playoff game would have been left home.
The list includes five teams that advanced to the state semi-finals: Marquette, New Richmond, Shoreland Lutheran, Reedsburg, and Catholic Memorial (the D3 state runner-up). Five of 28 state semi-finalists (17.9%) would not have even made the playoffs if the field had been reduced to 112. The full list of playoff teams that would have been left out in a 112-team field is at the bottom of this article.
As I mentioned previously, I don't foresee any scenario where in the current postseason structure the playoff field would be reduced, but if someone does suggest it, please show them this data. Too often we hear suggestions or changes proposed without relevant supporting data or the full impact on what would occur. There are a large number of excellent teams that would not have a shot to compete in the playoffs if the field was reduced, and in 2015 that even included a state runner-up. Smaller teams in conferences with larger opponents would be especially hurt by such changes. A reduction of the playoff qualifying field would far-reaching impacts on high school football, and I don't see a one-week adjustment in the start date justifying the significant negatives that would come out of it.
|Team||Enroll||Conf W||Conf L||Adjusted Status|
|Fond du Lac||2100||7||1||In|
|Kenosha St. Joseph||317||6||1||In|
|La Crosse Logan||832||6||1||In|
|Lake Country Lutheran||244||7||0||In|
|Madison La Follette||1453||7||2||In|
|Milwaukee Morse.Marshall co-op||2041||5||1||In|
|New Berlin Eisenhower||848||5||1||In|
|Prairie du Chien||331||4||1||In|
|Saint Croix Central||393||6||1||In|
|Saint Mary's Springs||229||5||1||In|
|Black River Falls||524||3||2||Out|
|Eau Claire Memorial||1756||4||3||Out|
|Fox Valley Lutheran||555||4||4||Out|
|Green Bay Preble||2184||5||4||Out|
|Green Bay Southwest||1194||5||4||Out|
|Kenosha Indian Trail||2510||5||2||Out|
|Milwaukee Bay View||1094||3||2||Out|
|Milwaukee Bradley Tech||1648||3||3||Out|
|Racine St. Catherine's||320||4||3||Out|
|Saint Croix Falls||317||4||2||Out|
|West De Pere||845||4||3||Out|
For the latest and most up to date football news and recruiting information, follow Travis on Twitter @travisWSN. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Travis at travis(at)wissports.net.