Erich Murphy's Sez MEE column
Were you hoping for a Pontiac-Prairie Central playoff game? Hoping to stir up that rivalry for something big? Guess what, it’s not going to happen this year.
Why so pessimistic? Because both teams have a gauntlet seemingly only matched by the other in terms of difficulty before they could play each other. That’s because the playoff format is unfair to all classes.
You see, due to the number of large schools in the Chicago area, there are very view from south of Will County. In fact, in 7A, there are four; in 8A, just Edwardsville. Because of this, it is easy to seed these classes 1-32 and not worry about north-south distinction.
Unfortunately, the powers that be have decided that breaking brackets down by region is a priority for the other six classes. That means, in the case of Class 4A, there is an unbalanced alignment.
And Pontiac and Prairie Central are among the bad-luck recipients of this practice.
Let’s be completely honest here, does anyone expect the Indians or Hawks to go all the way? It wouldn’t happen anyway because they would likely meet beforehand.
Pontiac will open the playoffs at home against Herrin in a game that pits the fifth seed in the South bracket against the 12th seed.Prairie Central is the 11th seed and will travel to Murphysboro, the sixth seed.
Should Pontiac and PC advance far enough to meet, it will be in the semifinals because they are in different quadrants.
Here’s a look at how Class 4A is set up. The North bracket has one undefeated team and three sitting at 8-1. There are also three teams at 7-2. That means that the remaining nine teams — NINE — are sitting with records at 6-3 or 5-4. More than half the bracket is 6-3 or 5-4, which means one 6-3 team — Dixon — gets a home game in the first round.
IC Catholic, who has won four state championships, is the lone unbeaten in the North and is expected to make it through to the title round. The main challengers are Coal City, the second seed, and Richmond-Burton. These two teams would meet in the quarterfinals.
OK, the South bracket is much more a challenge to get through. For starters, there are two unbeaten teams and three at 8-1. Throw in the seven 7-2 teams and that leaves just four teams at 6-3 or 5-4.
Pontiac is seeded fifth in the bracket and its quadrant features unbeaten and top-seed Taylorville, as well as Rochester, which is in my opinion the team to beat in 4A. Yep, the Indians and Rockets are in line to play in the second round.
Prairie Central is seeded 11th in the bracket and plays at No. 6 Murphysboro. Should the Hawks win, they will get a home game in round two against third-seed Bishop McNamara (unless Olney pulls off a huge upset).
Now, let’s look at this from a mileage standpoint. Is it any better to split the seeds into two 1-16 brackets or should it be 1-32 like the big schools?
Well, the travel up north is no big deal because all of the teams but one — Coal City — are north of I-80. Bishop McNamara and then Pontiac and then Prairie Central are the farthest north teams in the South bracket.
So where are teams driving to this weekend? The Hawks get the four-hour ride to Murphysboro, which is near Carbondale (any SIU folks remember that trip?) and Herrin gets to travel to Pontiac, which is also a four-hour trip.
Folks might remember Pontiac was to play at Herrin in the first game of the season in 2006 but a car accident that took the life of a PTHS student in the early hours of that Saturday created a cancellation of the contest.
Olney to Kankakee is a long drive, as well. Chillicothe to Taylorville isn’t short, either.
OK, so how would it be if the seeding for 4A was 1-32? For starters, Pontiac AND Prairie Central would be getting home games in the first round. The Indians would be seventh overall. The Hawks would be seeded 15th.
Let’s put this in perspective. PTHS would be seeded two spots lower than it is now with twice as many teams, and PC would be four spots lower AND hosting in the first round.
As for travel, there might be some long trips, but there are already long trips being made. That’s why I don’t buy the travel argument. If this was such a huge deal, the powers that be would never have gone away from the regional area format and you would still have teams with gaudy records knocking each other off early.
I don’t know how anyone else feels about this, but I believe making the seeds 1-32 is better than two 1-16 brackets. You still have to beat the best to be the best, but why should the better teams get beat up before reaching the finals? The winner of the South will have earned its spot in the state title game.