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STOVALL: Time to rethink play-in games

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.

A broken clock is right twice a day.

But that doesn’t mean it belongs on your wall.

Likewise, a 2-7 high school football team could beat an 8-1, top-10 ranked team perhaps once, maybe twice in 10 tries.

But that doesn’t mean it belongs in the playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the young men from North Clayton, the 2-7 team who will face No. 5 Stockbridge Friday for a playoff berth, or any of the other No. 4 seed region teams like Eagle’s Landing and Ola who will be pitted against top-seeded teams in this week’s region play-in games.

Nor, do I have any qualms with the men that work hard to coach them up week after week.

My beef is with the system. No. 1 versus No. 4. Best against the worst. Winner — regardless of record — moves on to the playoffs.

Loser — regardless of record — goes home.

That means if a high-octane offense like that of Eagle’s Landing goes out and does its thing Friday night against an 8-1 and Griffin team with a rather pourous defense, and a couple of loose balls and close calls come their way, you could be saying good-bye to the No. 6 team in the state.

And, hello, 2-8 Eagle’s Landing.

For people who love the underdog, such playoff scenarios are a dream come true.

But for those — like me — who prefer the postseason for the drama that comes with matching best against best and good on good, it could mean an anti-climatic ending to an otherwise intriguing season.

How heartbreaking would it be for a Stockbridge team with its highest ranking since 1968, a Henry County-first victory over Griffin and its first-ever region title of any kind, to come out flat for one night against a team that is six games below .500 and find itself on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in?

Some will argue that that is the beauty of such a playoff system. Any given team can come up and nip the other’s heels, prolonging their season while unexpectedly ending the other’s.

Some will say that such a setup provides even more drama, more intrigue, more suspense.

I say it negates the importance of the regular season.

Why give out rankings? Why dole out subregion crowns and regular season accolades when you give a team that has shown little signs of performing at playoff level over a 10-game regular season one more chance to advance to a place that they haven’t proven they belong?

Sure, it would make for a compelling story for 3-6 and 2-3 Ola to rise up and shock 8-1 Whitewater — a school that’s been to the playoffs four of its last six seasons.

No doubt a 1-9 Eagle’s Landing upset of 8-1 Griffin would generate warm fuzzies all across the Southern Crescent while sending shockwaves throughout the rest of the Georgia high school football world

And for all its struggles this year, North Clayton has already shown it can run with Region 4-AAAA, Div. A champion Stockbridge. The Eagles played the Tigers as well as any team this season in a 15-14 loss on Sept. 21 at Tiger Stadium.

But the playoffs in any sport should be a reward for an entire season’s body of work. Not just one game where the ball bounced all the right — or wrong — ways.

The playoffs should be the mechanism that sends an area’s best teams to represent them for a chance to win high school sports’ highest honor — a state championship.

Does giving a 1-8 team or a 2-7 squad, despite its inability to show its readiness for such a stage in the regular season, a one-shot-take-all opportunity to chase that trophy against a team that has churned out championship-caliber results each week, constitute fairness?

I don’t think so.

Match the No. 1’s against the No. 1’s. Put the No. 2’s and No. 3’s on the same field together. Don’t set up the play-ins as a regular season curse for the best teams and a questionable reward for the losing squads.

Nevertheless, what we have is what we have, and if you check your clocks, for better or for worse, play-in games means its playoff time.

Gabriel Stovall is a staff writer for the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com.