VHSL Delivers Mixed Bag
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Nov 1, 2013, 07:23
Prior to the season, the Virginia High School League conducted numerous changes to its athletic format. The changes aimed to contribute to making the league more competitive and give every team a chance to contend for a playoff berth.
Through an almost completed Fall season, the results have been a mixed bag.
First, there have been successes such as the recent cross country results. Hopewell high school had not captured a conference title in cross country since 1988. That’s partly to do with facing teams in the old Central District — schools that are bigger than Hopewell in terms of enrollment.
However, in the first season in the newly formatted VHSL, Hopewell captured the conference title while playing schools of their size like Petersburg and Armstrong.
Then, one can also look toward field hockey where Prince George find themselves in the conference title game Monday. It’s a place that would not have happened without the reformatting, but could become a regular occurrence over the next few years.
But it’s on the football side where some of the problems arise.
Back in August, I talked to many of the coaches about the reformatting and whether they understood what the VHSL aimed to accomplish. Most, if not all, acknowledged the idea was good — but they were confused as to how it would be executed.
Schedules are developed two years in advance and the 2013 season marked year one of the two-year commitments. These schedules included teams playing teams no longer in their conference such as Hopewell playing the likes of Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook.
At the time, Matoaca head coach Patrick Manuel had a simple message to his team.
“We’re going to go out there and try to win as many games as we can and worry about where they tell us to go at the end.”
Sound strategy but as of press time, the Warriors would not qualify for the playoffs. Their 4-4 record is better than a handful of teams which would qualify in the 5A South Region but they are hurt by a strength of schedule which had them play the likes of 3A schools like Prince George, Petersburg and Colonial Heights.
However, there have also been some teams who have benefited from the change like the Blue Devils. Sitting at a 3-5 record as of press time, Hopewell sits comfortably in the No. 9 spot of the 16-team field in 3A.
The tough schedule the Blue Devils faced not only prepared Ricky Irby’s squad for any team they may face in the playoffs, but gave them a boost in the playoff rankings.
“The strength of schedule is pretty tough and I think we are going to be battle-tested because of it,” Irby said.
But for a team like Petersburg, the changes have been a welcome addition for another reason.
At 2-6, they seem to be a lock for the postseason where the Crimson Wave’s athleticism could prove to be difficult to stop for other 3A schools. It was for this reason the VHSL made the changes.
They aimed to give every school a chance to qualify. Take a look around at the standings and they’ve accomplished their goal.
The final two games of the season mean carry heavy playoff implications for plenty of teams across the many different conferences — even those that may have been just playing out the string in previous years.
“I talked to coach Manuel earlier this week and we said in another year we may have been playing for nothing,” Irby said. “This game means a lot to both of us. The format gives every team a chance to play schools of their own size.”
If creating widespread contention was the goal of the VHSL, they accomplished it during the Fall season alone. However, is it worth keeping a system which will have over 60 percent of schools qualifying for the playoffs?
It’s a debate which will sure to be roaring deep into the Spring.