Feb 6, 2012
Garner vs Jack Britt high school football playoff game November 25, 2011. Photo by Andrew Craft - The Fayetteville Observer
Head football coaches from across the state met on Friday at the annual N.C. Football Coaches Association Winter Meeting held in Greensboro.
Two items dominated the business meeting and were a hot topic of conversation among coaches throughout the clinic, The pod system and going back to a 12-week regular season schedule.
When the pod system topic came up, the chatter in the room picked up as coaches started expressing their opinions and desire for change. When the vote was conducted, every head coach in the room voted against the pod system and some spoke out very much against the system.
Capps-HalIn a surprising twist, even 1A coaches who in some cases are forced to travel hundreds of miles in the playoffs were very much against the current system that keeps schools from traveling as far in the early rounds and in many cases plays a current conference member in the first round.
“I understand the premise behind it (pod system)”, said Wes Mattera, the head coach at Edenton Holmes, “I think the premise behind it initially was a good thought but it’s essentially turned the playoffs into a conference tournament.”
Start polling coaches and you’ll find out that most of them feel the same.
“Two of the last three years, we’ve played rival Marvin Ridge in the first round of the playoffs which really just adds an extra week to the conference schedule.” Stated Anson County head coach Luke Hyatt.
Just bringing up the pod system with some head coaches immediately brings upon a look of disgust and very pointed comments. Some coaches even refuse to speak on the matter because they couldn’t find anything good to say about it and didn’t want to go on the record and portray the North Carolina Athletic Association in a negative light.
Two major issues are constantly brought up though when the pod system is discussed. Number one is fairness and number two is money.
“I think the overwhelming thing is the sense of fairness, and the sense of what the spirit of the playoffs is about,” said Richard Bailey, head coach at Fayetteville Britt. “That is giving the best teams that have earned the right to have the best seed and the best chance to advance the farthest, and the pod system doesn’t do that.”
Veteran head coach Hall Capps of Mooresville nearly echoed his thoughts and added that a straight ranking system should return to the high school playoffs.
Hyatt-Luke“I don’t think it rewards you for your body of work throughout the season,” said Capps. “Teams that finish 3rd and 4th in a conference are going to have to travel, and you should have to travel far because you didn’t have a good season.”
Integrity of the playoffs and not stacking the best teams in a single pod is also a driving force in coaches wanting the current system changed.
“Like last year in 4-AA there was as Pod of Death,” said Adrian Snow, head coach at West Forsyth. “In the 4-A/4-AA it doesn’t need to happen. The bottom line, once you get in the playoffs you’re going to have to travel. They might need to think about not having as many teams in the playoffs.”
The pod system was created due to the struggling economy that the country is facing as an attempt to cut travel cost but many coaches feel that the state and administrators only see the travel figures and fail to understand the total picture and revenues lost because of the current scheme.
“First off, we respect the NCHSAA and we’ll do whatever they tell us to do,” says Tuscola head football coach Donnie Keifer. “But as far as coaches in Western N.C., I haven’t talked to any who likes the pod system.”
He went on to add, “When you play teams you’ve already played, there is not that excitement or playoff atmosphere. I’m sure the NCHSAA probably thinks that with schools being closer in the pod system that there is going to be a bigger gate draw but I don’t think so. I don’t think fans are interested in seeing teams that have already played, especially if it was lopsided the first time.”
Fayetteville Britt’s Richard Bailey also has concerns that the big picture is being missed by focusing solely on travel.
“Everybody is so focused on the travel expenses,” says Bailey. “It saves travel, but from I’ve seen it’s a minimal amount of money.”
His concern along with many other head coaches is the money lost by athletic boosters, band boosters, and even JROTC fundraisers held during football games.
Keifer feels that the kids are the ones really losing with the pod system. “Even if it meant 50 miles more travel, we want the excitement for our kids and for them to know what the playoffs are really supposed to be about,” he added.
The other item discussed that will also be on the agenda of the NCHSAA Board of Directors in the spring is moving back to a 12-week football season instead of the current system that shortened the season from 12 to 11 weeks.
Athletic Directors and coaches alike have struggled to find non-conference games without having that extra week and in some cases many traditional rivalry games have ceased because of it.
Coaches were polled during the meeting asking if they were still planning to play an endowment game and many of the coaches in attendance stated that were not because they needed that extra week.
Donnie Keifer felt strongly about the deal and stated that it will hurt the state moving forward with just an 11-week schedule. He stated that we all want to support the NCHSAA Endowment but if so many schools decide to drop the 11th game, the Endowment will suffer from it.
Safety of the kids participating is also a concern with playing 11 games in 11 weeks. Many of the coaches have stated that kids need that extra week not only to heal physically but also mentally because football is such a demanding game and it drains you.