UIL has gone way too far with playoffs

Published 5:36 am Tuesday, July 2, 2019

I love sports in general, but I especially love watching high school sports. I love watching young athletes play for their school and play for the simple fact that they love to play the game.

It is also great when our area teams are successful, but I have come to question what success is exactly.

Thirty-eight years ago, when one football team from each district made the playoffs, teams could have a successful season without advancing to the postseason. These days when, in most classifications, four teams make the playoffs from each district, teams with losing records regularly reach the postseason.

Yes, I know there are more ways to measuring success than wins and losses, but when a team is being rewarded with a trip to the playoffs, the record should at least be close to .500.

Expanding the playoffs to include the second place team from the district was definitely a good move by the University Interscholastic League when it was made in 1982. In most cases, a district’s second-place team has a winning record, and is capable of holding their own and possibly making a run in the playoffs.

The UIL later expanded the playoffs to include the top three teams from each district, and several years ago the playoffs expanded yet again to include the top four teams from each district. Talk about watering down the playoffs.

Last year in Classes 4A, 3A and 2A there were 96 bi-district games that pit a district champion against the fourth place team from another district. In those 96 games, the district champion won 91. The average score in those 96 games was 48 to 15 in favor of the district champs.

I know the main reason for the UIL’s decision to expand the playoffs to include four teams from each district is financial. More playoff games equal more money for the UIL. However, I think another reason the UIL expanded the playoffs was to reward more athletes for playing the game. But, does just playing the game deserve a spot in the playoffs? Shouldn’t players have to do more than “just play the game” for their team to make the playoffs?

Who remembers those pitiful bidistrict playoff games that the West Orange-Stark Mustangs had to play Houston Scarborough on their quest for state titles a few years back. The first time was in Beaumont, which was not too bad of a trip, even though Scarborough was winless. But that trip to Baytown the second time around was tough to swallow, driving that far to watch a massacre. I felt for the die-hard Mustang fans that had to make that trip.

What if a great team lost a player to an injury in a matchup like that. Yep, I remember WO-S noseguard Mandel Turner King walking off the field with a major limp in one of those Scarborough games. Thank goodness he was able to play the next week.

Same things go for all other sports, even though football is a little more ridiculous with all of the Division I and Division II silliness.

I’ve seen volleyball bidistrict matches where the warmups took longer than the actual matches themselves. The last one occurred a couple years ago when the LC-M Lady Bears swept Shepherd, a team that did not win a district game in what was then a four-team district. The match lasted around 39 minutes. Yes, I timed it. The Shepherd fan base even had the nerve to sell playoff T-shirts. I have seen bidistrict basketball games that have been nearly 50-point losses

It kind of all goes back to when the powers that be in youth sports decided everyone should receive participation awards instead of just awarding the players of the winning teams. I’m sorry, but I’m old-school where winning actually mattered and was rewarded.

I’m like the guy in the Kia Sorento commercial. His son’s team wins every game, but at the end of the season his son receives a trophy with “Participation” on the nameplate. The dad pops the nameplate off, takes a marker and writes “champs” on the base before handing it back to his son.

I remember the first flag football team I was on in the second grade and that first year we lost every single game. We didn’t receive anything for participation except an ice cream party at the end of the season, where I watched the members of the first place team receive their trophies.

Watching them receive their trophies didn’t hurt my feelings, make me mad, scar me for life or make me want to give up and quit playing. It didn’t do any of those things because I knew I had not earned the trophy.

What it did do, was it made me want to keep playing and get better so come the next season I might be able to contribute more to my team and help them finish in first place.

Giving every player the same thing takes away their competitive edge. Players grow up not really knowing or understanding what winning feels like, what losing feels like, and what is involved and what it takes to go from losing to winning.

Sports mirrors life in so many ways and can teach so many life lessons, but the “participation” road we seem to be traveling on takes away the impact of so many of those life lessons.

By the way, I’m still waiting on a Scarborough playoff winless T-shirt. That would be quiet a keeper.