Yodice: Three unbeaten top seeds going on playoff road? System needs tweaking - Albuquerque Journal

Yodice: Three unbeaten top seeds going on playoff road? System needs tweaking

Cleveland’s wide receiver Ethan Duran (19) scores against Hobbs Saturday at Cleveland High. Despite being the No. 1 seed in 6A, Cleveland will be on the road for a state semifinal game. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The theory of evolution doesn’t have to be limited in scope to biology. Its application can also be married to high school football.

To that end, I propose the following:

Revise the state’s playoff system.

Not overhaul it, mind you. But perhaps it’s time to rearrange some of the furniture. To wit:

This upcoming weekend, three No. 1 seeds – three undefeated No. 1 seeds, no less – will be taking to the road for a state semifinal game.

Raton (11-0) is a No. 1 seed in Class 3A. The Tigers not only are traveling Saturday, but they’ve got to play in Santa Fe against a district rival in No. 4-seeded St. Michael’s.

Farmington (11-0) is a No. 1 seed in Class 5A. The Scorpions have over 400 miles of road ahead of them (one way) as they face No. 4 Artesia at Bulldog Bowl on Saturday.

And Cleveland, the state’s top team, will appear at the Field of Dreams as Class 6A’s top seed to take on No. 5 Las Cruces on Friday night.

The optics of this creates some discomfort, no doubt, particularly among the three fan bases.

The system, as constituted, calls for Raton, Farmington and Cleveland to travel because the last time they played their opponents in the state semifinals or beyond, it was on home turf.

In Cleveland’s case, when the Storm lost to Las Cruces in the 2016 semifinals, the game was in Rio Rancho. Thus, on Friday night, this one goes south.

In 2017, Artesia played in Farmington in the 2017 semis, hence the Scorpions are forced to the road this week.

And Raton is going to Santa Fe because the last time the Horsemen and Tigers met this late in the playoffs, it was in Raton.

In 1954.

Look, when there weren’t any numerical seeds attached to teams, and long before the advent of a MaxPreps.com ranking – and it’s been a long while since either of those weren’t in place – the flip-flopping of sites was rooted in logic and common sense. With no other method available, who could say for sure what school deserved to host? So, they rotated. Not perfect, but reasonably equitable.

And it still does rotate, at least as it pertains to the semifinal round and championship games. Higher seeds get to host in the first round and quarterfinals. The rotating was amended a few years ago for the better. Previously, the locations of the semis and finals was based on the last playoff game between two schools in ANY round.

Make no mistake. The current system we have is miles ahead of what used to exist, when the playoffs took the top two teams from every district and no one else. Obviously, there’s been much progress on several fronts.

This system also makes it near impossible for one school to monopolize postseason home games in the final two rounds. (We’re looking at you, Sandoval County. In the last seven years, five of the big-school finals – 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 – were hosted by Rio Rancho or Cleveland.)

Alas, schools are seeded now, and an update, it says from this keyboard, is in order.

The higher seeds should be hosting as long as they stay alive in the playoffs.

This suggestion is not put forward because it would give the higher seeds a competitive advantage on the field. Being at home, by and large, doesn’t guarantee much of anything except that players from the home team can sleep in their own beds. In high school football in this state, the best team nearly always prevails, regardless of whether they’re playing in their back yard or 400 miles away. This observation comes from someone who has watched and covered championship games in New Mexico for 35 years.

My opinion is that the higher seeds should host as a reward for their regular seasons.

Only the New Mexico Activities Association’s board of directors has the voting power to tweak the playoff system. Dusty Young, the NMAA’s associate director and its point person for football, said no push to change the status quo had been made in recent years from the state’s coaches, from whom the NMAA often takes its lead.

And it is important to note that a large majority of the members of the NMAA’s board are Superintendents (from both large and small districts) who prefer to keep things as they are. So all this may just be tilting at windmills.

I’m rooting for evolution.


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