At first glance, the football playoff format adopted by Georgia High School Association Regions 2-AAAA (with Lakeside, Greenbrier and Evans) and 3-AAA (with Grovetown and Harlem) appears complex.
The system of play-in games is actually pretty simple, though, once you understand how it works, and it offers plenty of benefits and advantages.
In each region, the winner of the North division faces off against the winner of the South division. The winner of that game wins the region championship and earns the region's No. 1 seed going into the state playoffs. The loser gets the No. 2 seed, while both are guaranteed a home game for the first round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 seed from the North division faces the No. 3 seed from the South division, and vice-versa. The winners of those two contests get the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds for the region and go on the road for the first round of the playoffs.
The losers of those two games miss out on the playoffs.
Most important in considering the merits of a system is whether or not it's fair, and this one is. If you win your subregion, you make the playoffs and get a home game, even if you lose the play-in game.
On the other hand, if you fail to win the subregion, but finish second or third, you must win the play-in game to go to the playoffs. For these teams, it's as if the state playoffs start a week earlier, because it's win or go home. It's hard to complain about the format. If a team can't win a play-in game, that team probably isn't going to advance very far in the playoffs.
I like the format because it provides instant momentum for those teams that win play-in games. Teams that advance to the playoffs from regions that don't feature this format go directly from the regular season to the first round of the playoffs. These teams, on the other hand, already will have experienced the pressure of a crucial game prior to the playoffs.
My favorite part of the format is the game between subregion No. 1 seeds.
Oftentimes, a team will advance out of region play without having faced a significant challenge. In this format, a team that wins its subregion gets a crack at the opposite division's subregion champion. While a win means a No. 1 seed, the game is not a must-win contest.
Therefore, the two teams get to play solid competition without the threat of elimination. A great example this season was Friday's matchup between Thomson and Burke County. Both will benefit from playing against the other.
Another benefit of the format is that the regular-season finale offers nonplayoff contenders a final game against what should be a fairly evenly matched opponent.
In Region 2-AAAA and Region 3-AAA, there are six teams in each division. For the season finale, No. 4 from the North division plays No. 4 from the South division, and the same goes for No. 5 vs. No. 5 and No. 6 vs. No. 6.
An added benefit for these games is that teams can decide how they want to approach their final game.
Because it has no playoff implications, teams can decide whether to give their seniors one last full game to finish out their careers, or to give some younger, more inexperienced players a chance to see some time on the field.
The speed of practice during the week is so much different from the speed of a varsity game on Friday night. Thus, this experience is invaluable for those players who will be stepping in for upperclassmen when they're gone.
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