The Michigan High School Athletic Association enacted a number of rule changes regarding postseason play during its annual summer meeting, as basketball and soccer will see the addition of seeing at the district level, and the process used to select playoff teams for football will be adjusted to reward teams that play more successful opponents.
Starting in the 2019-20 school year, girls and boys basketball and soccer will utilize a seeding process that places the top two teams in every district on opposite sides of that bracket. This will ensure those two top-seeded teams don’t play each other before the district championship game.
Taking effect in 2020, playoff football teams will be selected at the end of the regular season based on playoff-point average, eliminating automatic qualifications based on win total. In other words, the traditional “six wins and you’re in” requirement that many have become accustomed to is no more. The adjusted formula for playoff points will now reward teams that beat larger schools or lose to better opponents. This will force teams to schedule tougher opponents, rather than easier ones with the intent to simply meet the six-win requirement.
For Saline football coach Joe Palka, these new rules will make it easier for his program to schedule quality opponents and fill out a schedule. With an emphasis on strength of schedule, opponents will now benefit from taking on a top team like Saline.
“The end result for us is that we should have an easier time filling our schedule,” Palka said. “This would have helped in the years where we only had eight games. I don't think there will be that much difference for us other than that.”
The Hornets have had a tough time finding formidable opponents to compliment their conference schedule in recent years, often opting to face teams from Canada in order to complete a nine-game schedule. Or even worse, in 2017, Saline couldn’t find an opponent for the final week of the regular season. “
It was designed to help ease the scheduling problem across the state,” Palka said. “I think it does that for sure.”
Boys' basketball coach Jake Fosdick was encouraged with the implementation of seeding at the district level, but expressed the desire for further postseason adjustment based on strength of schedule. “I am hoping this eventually leads to us seeding the entire region,” Fosdick said. “I think it would be really cool to put all four districts in our region together and seed it like the NCAA tournament.
“I think that would be the fairest way to reward teams for a successful regular season and reward teams for putting together a challenging schedule. So with them just separating the top two seeds I think it’s a step in the right direction but there is still a lot of work ahead.”
As for his thoughts on how the new seeding will affect Saline’s postseason competition, the young coach made reference to the strength of his team’s most recent district, and how its depth will ensure tough opponents night in and night out.
“I don’t think these rules will make a big impact this year,” Fosdick said. “As long as we are in the district we were in last year, there’s no bad teams. With us along with Belleville, Ypsilanti, Lincoln, Pioneer and Huron you're going to play a tough game every night.”
Leigh Ann Roehm, who’s headed into her third season as girls' basketball coach, echoed Fosdick’s tempered opinion of seeding at the district level. She, like Fosdick, also pointed to stiff competition as the reason why these new rules will minimally effect her program.
“I think this is a good first step to bringing equity to postseason play,” Roehm said. “However, it won't result in enormous differences in terms of Saline girls basketball, specifically. We will still be in an extremely tough district with lots of tough teams grouped together both in our district and in our region.
“If this had been in effect last year, I still think our district draw would have been very similar to what it was last year. With so many talented teams in our district, no matter what side of the bracket you are on, you are going to face tough teams well before you reach the district championship.”
Boys' soccer coach Ryan Williams is excited for the new seeding rules to take effect, as he believes they will allow for the two best teams to potentially match up in the finals, rewarding them for successful seasons while fostering more competition in the district finals.
"I like it a lot for soccer, as there have been many seasons that I have seen that the top two teams competing in the first round are the best in the district,” Williams said. “I have also seen district finals not be competitive due to the top teams eliminating each other early on.
“I feel as if the best teams in the district should be playing for the trophy. This still gives the other teams opportunity to knock out others obviously, but I like separating the top two teams and rewarding them for a good season.”