Southern Section Council approves proposal to change team sports playoff format

A culture change is coming to the Southern Section playoff competition for the 2024-25 school year.

The Southern Section Council approved a proposal Tuesday to make its football playoff format used by all team sports. No longer will schools be put in playoff divisions based on previous years’ results. Current results will be used along with computer rankings. Teams will be seeded one to 32, and schools could end up facing league opponents in the first round depending on the seeding.

Schools could be left out of the playoffs if they do not report their scores during the season. The vote was 79-8 to approve.

The format has been used for three years in football, leading to grumbling but much closer games. It’s a competitive equity model that ignores the size of a school or its geographic location, something that was used for years to create divisions. It is not universally supported, but Southern Section officials have embraced it as a way to improve the playoff format.

Such sports as basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and water polo will face a culture change as schools that suddenly have a powerful team will get put in playoff divisions with the usual powers depending on that season’s results.

The question is how will the change affect nonleague games? Some coaches have speculated that coaches will try to schedule easier nonleague games to help make sure teams are eligible for at-large playoff berths. Others might try to lose early to drop divisions. A benefit from the new format is that schools becoming suddenly good because of an influx of transfer students won’t be able to hide at a lower division. They will be put in a playoff division by how well they are doing with the transfers that season.

Brett Kay, baseball coach at defending Southern Section Division 1 champion JSerra, said of the new format, “I like it. I’m a big fan of it. I think it’s a step to go toward an Open Division. You can’t hide. If you’re a good club, you’re going up.”

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