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Shawn Jansen: Playoff proposal a step in right direction, but ...

Shawn Jansen
Shawn Jansen

Dennis Stubbs may have to change the way he schedules teams.

You remember that Los Banos-St. Mary's shootout in September?

You might not see many more of those marquee games against big-time opponents after this year.

Why?

The risk isn't worth the reward.

That seems to be the biggest issue local football coaches have with the new playoff proposal released by the Sac-Joaquin Section last week.

Teams may shy away from playing juggernauts like St. Mary's and possibly Merced.

"That's the biggest fear for me," Merced coach Rob Scheidt said.

"Obviously, you want to have a successful program. That's the ultimate goal and I hope we continue to get better.

"You just hope people don't start ducking you for that reason. That's getting away from why we're in the sport."

I'd call the reactions I got from the five Central California Conference coaches I talked to on Wednesday as mixed to luke warm about the playoff proposal.

For the most part, coaches feel the playoff proposal is a step in the right direction.

But that might just be further proof that nobody liked the old system.

It didn't work.

We saw an 8-2 Turlock team not make the playoffs and a 3-7 Monterey Trail make it last year.

It was just four years ago that an 8-2 Merced team missed out on the playoffs.

The playoff brackets were pre-determined by league affiliation, which led to a first-round matchup between the top two teams in Division II when Grant (10-0) played Granite Bay (9-1).

"I thought it was a long time coming," Buhach Colony coach Kevin Swartwood said.

So what do the coaches like about the proposal?

They like the idea that more teams will participate in the playoffs with the section possibly expanding the Division I and II brackets to two 16-team fields.

"It's the right thing to do," Golden Valley coach Jon Betschart said.

"If you look at this year, Turlock and Pitman should have probably been in the playoffs."

However, most coaches feel there are better ways to seed the playoff teams.

If the proposal passes, teams will be seeded by the number of wins -- regardless how each team finished in league.

Take last year for example.

Turlock (8-2) would have been seeded No. 6 and Los Banos (6-4) would have been seeded No. 12 despite beating Turlock and finishing second in the Central California Conference based on the section tiebreaker.

Personally, I'd like to see the section put a seeding committee together to seed the playoffs.

That way they can look at who a team played and the quality of the wins.

Let's face it.

There are going to be teams looking to pile up wins against bad teams to help their playoff chances.

One benefit of the old system, non-league games had no impact on whether a team made the playoffs or not.

Teams could load up their schedule to give fans some great matchups.

"It was fun to see Merced go play Edison or Grant go out of state," Stubbs said.

"We boosted our schedule. Next year may be the last time we play St. Mary's. I'm not sure it works in our favor.

"We may have to rethink our schedule to make sure we get six wins and then go from there."

Other coaches aren't sure how the changes will affect what they're doing.

"Our schedule is set," Atwater coach Bob Valladao said. "But in the future, do we go out and schedule a team like Bullard?

"My feeling is we're going to schedule teams that get us ready for league.

"I'm not going to play team that won't make us better. At the same time, I don't want to go out and get beat up. There's a balance there."

It does present a dilemma for coaches who have aspirations of reaching a state bowl game.

Just look at Merced, which loaded its pre-conference schedule last year with heavyweights like Edison,

Del Oro and Napa.

Merced's quest for the big stage could ultimately hurt its chances of even making the playoffs.

"As for the larger picture, I like the way we schedule," Scheidt said. "I don't think it will change how we schedule outside our section.

"It might change the way we schedule inside the section because we might play a team like Napa in the first round of the playoffs now."

One thing is for sure, we'll definitely see coaches adjust in different ways if the playoff proposal is passed.

It's a step in the right direction.

Let's just hope the steps don't stop here.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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