I'm concerned about the number of lop-sided "blowout" contests in the early rounds of the playoffs. Last fall, for instance, in the 3A East, there were two first-round matches in which the losing team lost all six singles matches by 6-0, 6-0 scores ... that's 72-0.

Blowouts aren't limited to tennis, of course. Virtually every sport we play sees blowout losses in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Blowouts are bad for sports ... winners don't know whether they should keep playing hard, losers are humiliated by mercy rules or running clocks, winners get cocky, losers get frustrated, tempers flare, no one learns anything, and no one wants to watch, either. 

Some say the answer is to limit the draws, but finding a metric that identifies the "worthy" teams, and eliminates the "unworthy" teams is devilishly difficult, as history demonstrates.

Here's a different idea ... stagger the bracket.

As the ACC has expanded, the conference has attempted to protect its best basketball teams from having to play four games in four days, immediately prior to the NCAA tournament. The mechanism that has been developed to accomplish this is the staggered bracket.

It works like this: the top 4 teams get a double-bye, meaning they don’t have to play until the third round. The next four teams get a single-bye, meaning that they don’t have to play until the second round. The remaining teams play first-round matches against one another.

This results in the #16 team playing #9, not #1, in the first round. That’s a lot more manageable, and the contest is much more even. The winner advances to play #8, and the winner of that contest plays the #1 seed. The rest of the bracket works the same way.

Imagine a staggered bracket for the NCHSAA playoffs. Let’s say the draw is 32 in the East and 32 in the West. In each region, the top eight teams would get a double-bye, and the next eight would get a single-bye.

The bottom half of the draw would play one another in the first round. The winners would advance to the second round, to play the #9 - #16 teams. The second-round winners would play the top eight seeds in the third round, and the tournament would proceed normally from that point on.

The results would be much more even first-round contests, with both teams having a decent chance at victory. The truly powerhouse teams would not have to waste time, and risk injury, playing a contest they really can’t lose.

And, when a team finally did play that powerhouse, in the third round, they’d already have won at least one contest in the playoffs. So, even if they do lose to that state championship caliber team by forty points in the third round, they can go home to their awards ceremony and brag that they won at least one game, and maybe two, in the state playoffs.
That’s a much better playoff experience than getting destroyed by the #1 seed in the first round.

This process does take an additional playing date to complete (seven play-dates for a 64-team draw instead of six).

And, it may not be suited for football, as few coaches of really good teams will want to wait three weeks from the end of the regular season to their first playoff game (though that’s for football coaches to decide). I note that having a 48-team field with byes for the top 16, would accomplish a similar purpose.

But, for volleyball, basketball, dual-team tennis, softball, baseball, soccer, and perhaps, even wrestling, because these sports can be played two or three times a week, this process would work just fine, and blowouts would be minimized to a great extent.

So ... fellow coaches, what do you think?

Coach Jay James
Stagger The Bracket
I absolutely love this idea Coach Vic! I too am worried not only in the first round blowouts but in the second round as well. Let's say Team A plays against Team B and both feel they can compete with or even defeat their opponent in the first round. Then they take a peak at the next round only to realize they would have to play a very high seed in the second round and decide the embarrassment, gas, and time is not worth the trip. Now I am not saying that this actually happened in the second round of the 3A East playoffs but it certainly could!

Coach Jay James
West Johnston


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