Jemison jobbed by new tiebreaker

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In a highly competitive sport where making the playoffs is an accomplishment in itself, there might seem to be little difference between a No. 2 seed and a No. 3 seed.

But there is a difference. A 2 has the advantage of hosting a first-round game against a visiting 3. A 3 seed then, obviously, has to travel and has to play what is probably a better team than it would have drawn if it had finished second in a particular region.

So, you can understand the frustration the Jemison football team might feel if it ends up third in Class 4A, Region 3 after thinking it had one of the top two spots wrapped up. The Panthers, you see, would have finished second at worst under last year’s tiebreakers.

Tiebreaker “L” would have settled a logjam with Jemison, Bibb County High and Calera. This tiebreaker rules in favor of the team “whose defeated opponents in class and above have the most victories if all teams involved in the tie play an equal number of games.” Basically, a team would be credited for defeating good teams in its classification or higher but not in its region. Jemison, for example, would have a win over Class 5A Chilton County High, who has three wins this year.

This requirement – scheduling opponents your size or bigger and beating them – made sense. This year, however, the difference between the three teams will be decided by a tiebreaker that likes “the team whose defeated required opponents have the most victories.” So, Jemison would receive less credit for beating Calera (the Eagles will finish with six or seven wins) than Calera would receive for beating Bibb Co. (will finish with eight or nine wins).

Sounds fair enough, right? Yep, until you consider Bibb County’s only hope to win the region is to lose to CCHS and have Jemison defeat Shelby County.

“You have teams that have to lose to be able to win, and that’s not the way you play the game,” Jemison coach Brad Abbott said.

It’s hard to argue with that, even for AHSAA assistant director Alan Mitchell.

“That’s not a good one,” Mitchell said of the tiebreaker that will probably deny Jemison a home playoff game. “That one will probably be changed somewhat. It’s hard to have a perfect set of tiebreakers.”

Mitchell said all rules, including tiebreakers, are evaluated at the end of each year. The change in question was a way to make the tiebreaking system compatible with AHSAA’s online system for reporting scores. That system will no doubt one day make life much easier for AHSAA employees (and sports writers), but it’s causing more than a few headaches while the bugs are still being worked out.

If the scenario outlined above (Jemison win, Bibb loss) were to occur on Friday night, the least-confusing and least technology-inspired method possible will be used to determine the region winner: the flip of a coin.

But that raises the question, how does a coin flip decide a winner among three teams?

Maybe there is no simple way.