Play-in system proves costly for Cowboys


Crook County fails to earn play-in berth despite finishing 23rd in final power rankings

With 24 teams making it to post-season play, you would think that finishing in 23rd place in the final OSAA Class 4A?power rankings would be enough to earn a play-in game.

Unfortunately, finishing in the top 24 isn’t always enough, as the Cowboys found out on Friday night.

After losing their first three games, the Cowboys rebounded to win five of their last six contests, including wins over a pair of Class 5A opponents. Crook County played four contests against Class 5A?opponents and played five games against teams who reached post-season play. However, according to the power rankings, the Cowboys played one of the weaker schedules in the state.

Four teams with worse records than the Cowboys earned play-in contests, while three other teams with identical records to the Cowboys are also in post-season play.

So how did the Cowboys fail to earn a play-in contest?

It all started when the OSAA?elected to try using hybrid leagues (leagues with teams from more than one classification) in order to cut down on travel expenses. The plan works well in Washington, however, it never really gained traction in Oregon. Class 4A athletic directors immediately voted to guarantee league champions a bye into the first round of the playoffs, and a home contest, regardless of where they finished in the power rankings. They also decided that the first three teams in every league other than the Greater Oregon League earned at least a play-in contest. The Greater Oregon League, which has just four teams, was guaranteed just two teams. Meanwhile, hybrid teams were only promised one berth in post-season play.

Any remaining hybrid teams are forced to hope for one of two at-large berths.

This year, for example, the Ridgeview Ravens finished fourth in the final power rankings yet (at least for now) have been given a play-in contest. Meanwhile, Klamath Union (10), Gladstone (11), and Ontario (20) were all given byes into the first round and will host home games by virtue of winning league championships. This despite the fact that Ridgeview is 8-1 and defeated four Class 5A teams.

The Cowboys were bumped from post-season consideration when Sweet Home (4-5 ranked 25th) and Estacada (3-6 and ranked 31st) each finished third in their league. North Valley and South Umpqua earned the at-large spots after finishing 13th and 17th in the final power rankings.

That might seem reasonable until you look at comparative scores. South Umpqua finished with a 5-4 record including a 40-20 loss to North Valley. Meanwhile, North Valley finished with a 6-3 record. However, they lost 47-10 to Ridgeview, a team that Crook County lost to by a 12-3 margin.

Granted comparative scores can fool you, but it certainly looks like Crook County would be competitive with either team.

The problem is not exclusive to football. Ridgeview also has to play in a play-in contest in volleyball despite finishing eighth in the final power rankings. Meanwhile, La Grande (10), Marshfield (12), and Madras (13) all earn byes because they won league championships.

The system clearly isn’t fair. The good news for Crook County is that this is the last year the current system will be in effect. The OSAA?Executive Board votes today on the latest redistricting plan. If the plan passes as expected, hybrid leagues are gone. Ridgeview moves up to 5A, while Crook County joins the Tri-Valley league, along with Estacada and Madras. Starting next year, Crook County will be treated like any other team in any other league. However, this year both boys and girls basketball, baseball, and softball still have to try to fight their way in.

Fair or not the system is what it is and the Cowboy football team is left on the outside looking in — wondering what might have been.