Tiebreakers need tinkering
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
Something is rotten in the state of Alabama.
That festering odor you smell is the football tiebreaker system of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Hartselle coach Bob Godsey is taking the high road when it comes to the tiebreaker system, saying that his team should have simply taken care of business on the road.
That's what coaches do, though. They take the high road. I'm not a coach, so I'm not going to do the same.
There is something inherently wrong with a system that essentially penalizes a team for playing an opponent in a higher classification. That's exactly what happened to Hartselle this season.
Hartselle, Cullman and Walker ended the season with identical 4-3 Region 8 records. None of the three beat the other two head-to-head, so the tie came all the way back down to AHSAA Tiebreaker letter (l), which states: "The team whose defeated opponents have the most victories if all teams involved in the tie play an equal number of games."
Here's what the tie essentially came down to, since all three teams beat Curry, Muscle Shoals and Brewer and all three lost to Athens and Russellville: Hartselle – win over 3-7 6A Austin, win over 6-4 5A Walker, win over 5-5 6A Florence; Cullman – win over 4-5 5A Gadsden, win over 2-8 3A Hanceville, win over 5A 6-4 Hartselle, win over 5A 1-9 Arab; Walker – win over 7-3 4A Dora, win over 7-3 5A Cullman, win over 4-6 5A Hueytown.
So, the total points were: Walker with 18, Hartselle with 14, Cullman with 13. Because Walker won this tiebreaker, the Vikings received third place. Cullman and Hartselle then went to a simple head-to-head tiebreaker, giving the Bearcats the fourth place since Cullman defeated Hartselle during the regular season.
But let's look at the bigger picture here. Hartselle played three Class 6A schools, two of whom are going to the playoffs, in its non-region games; Cullman and Walker played zero. Look who's getting left out of the playoffs.
No disrespect to Dora – they are a good team and are certainly worthy of their 7-3 record. But there is a problem when Walker gets rewarded seven points for beating a team in a lower classification while Hartselle's two wins over Class 6A opponents only net them eight.
It is certainly true that Hartselle could have avoided this entire mess by beating Athens or Cullman or Russellville, but that doesn't change the fact that the system is flawed. Had the Tigers scheduled a powerhouse Class 1A team and defeated them, Hartselle would be headed to the playoffs right now.
Using strength of schedule is a good idea for a tiebreaker, but it is meaningless if the classification of the opponent is not taken into account.
A simple solution would be to add a point to a win against a team in a higher classification, and subtract a point from a win against a team in a lower classification. Under this hypothetical system, Hartselle would have still been left out of the playoffs (Walker 17, Hartselle 16, Cullman 12), but I think the taste in the Tigers' mouths wouldn't be quite as sour.
Defeating a 9-1 Class 6A team and defeating a 9-1 Class 3A or 4A team are not the same thing, and the AHSAA should realize this and make the appropriate changes to next year's tiebreaker system.
And now for this week's picks:
Falkville Blue Devils (4-6) at Lexington Golden Bears (9-1): Congratulations to the Blue Devils, who are in the playoffs for the first time in six years.
They've got quite a difficult draw however, against a Lexington team that is averaging almost 30 points a game. Falkville's trip to the postseason should be a short one, but that doesn't take anything away from the Blue Devils' great season…Golden Bears 45, Blue Devils 14.
Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0) at Mississippi State Bulldogs (2-6): Sylvester Croom might find himself on the hot seat at the end of this season. It's pretty embarrassing to lose to Kentucky (in football, anyway). He'd better be prepared for another embarrassment Saturday…Crimson Tide 31, Bulldogs 7.
Auburn Tigers (6-2) at Kentucky Wildcats (2-5): Kentucky fans are just waiting for basketball season to tip off. Auburn is trying to stay healthy for its chances to completely ruin Alabama's dream season in the Iron Bowl…Tigers 28, Wildcats 10.
Tennessee Volunteers (3-4) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-2): Nearly-unstoppable offense vs. hideous offense. Mediocre defense vs. shutdown defense. Seasoned Heisman candidate quarterback vs. You take it. No, you take it! No, you take it! Fat coach vs. fat coach. No contest…Fighting Irish 28, Volunteers 10.