Return to form: Pioneers rout Lawton to stay undefeated

Stillwater High senior quarterback Caleb Allen throws a pass during the first quarter of Friday’s game at Cameron Stadium in Lawton. Allen threw for 324 yards and five touchdowns in the Pioneers’ 70-17 win over the Wolverines.

No team left behind this fall.

That’s the approach the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association is taking with the high school football playoffs, which are set to begin Nov. 13.

The OSSAA approved new guidelines Tuesday that will change the landscape of the 2020 football playoffs. The biggest change will be the inclusion of any team that chooses to participate in the playoffs.

District standings will not determine which teams advance past the regular season, but instead will only determine the seedings of teams in every class across the state. The change will add an extra week to the seasons of every class, except 6A, which had a bye week built in before the Dec. 4 championship game. The 6A state semifinals will be Nov. 27, instead of the week prior, this year.

OSSAA Associate Director of Football Mike Whaley met with media from across the state via Zoom on Tuesday morning to discuss the changes and the rationale behind them.

“Obviously, with the cancellation of many games in district play, it caused us some concern about, first, how games could be made up,” Whaley said. “We did not think at the very beginning that we would have as many games canceled as we have. Since we started district play and monitoring that, we have had approximately 25-28 games each week that have been canceled out.

“Some of those games have been made up, as you know, but some of them haven’t been made up. The other concern that we had is as we proceeded to the end of the regular season, we had a lot of schools that had multiple games that needed to be made up, and didn’t have enough time to do that. It was also causing some schools to play multiple games in a week.”

The OSSAA had deemed Week 11, which was the original week for playoffs to begin, will still be the first week of the postseason, but it’s now being called the “play-in round.” The games can be played on that Thursday, Friday or Saturday, depending on officiating crews and what both schools agree to do.

Any school will be allowed to participate in the play-in round, and district will paired 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8 with the seedings matching up 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5 when crossing districts. Thus, the No. 1 seed from District 1 will face the No. 8 seed from District 2. In Class B, the top two seeds from each district will receive a first-round bye because each district is made up of only six teams.

Schools may opt out of the play-in round, but must do so by noon on Nov. 7 – the day after the regular season is scheduled to end. If they do opt out, the team they would play will receive a bye for the play-in round.

Although regular season games haven’t been forfeited because of COVID-19, playoff games will be affected. According to the new guidelines, any team that can’t play a non-championship game due to COVID will be eliminated from the series.

If a team wins a playoff game, but can’t play the following week, the team’s losing opponent from the previous game will have the opportunity to play the next game. Thus, if Team A beat Team B, but can’t play against Team C in the next round, Team B would replace Team A in the bracket.

Meanwhile, state championship games that have issues with COVID will be handled by the OSSAA. State title games in 6A-A will once again be held at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, while Class B and C title games will be determined later at neutral site locations.

Whaley was asked whether teams should continue to practice after losing in the playoffs, and he said it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do so.

“I think the coach needs to make that decision,” Whaley said. “It would be permitted, because as I told you earlier, we’re allowing teams to play football games beyond Week 10 this time, so them practicing that one week would not be an issue.”

The OSSAA is asking coaches in districts where district games have been missed to rank the teams in the district the final three weeks of the regular season. The coaches have the option to use those rankings or use the current OSSAA policy, which is based on district wins, to determine the seeding of teams for the postseason.

Whaley was asked about the integrity of the coaches if they vote for the rankings.

“That’s been a concern of our staff and a concern of the coaches association since we’ve been doing rankings,” Whaley said. “We have not traditionally used rankings in football playoff scenarios. Our concern here is that we would end up with districts that are missing games and the only way to get an overall feel for the district would be to ask the coaches within that district.

“Could manipulation take place by coaches? I guess it could. Am I going to tell you it hasn’t over my history here at the association? I certainly think it probably has in certain sports, but as we say here in the office, the poll is only as good as the pollsters.”

Whaley did say teams that missed regular season games can play extra games after being eliminated from the playoffs if it wishes. He said if a school can find an opponent, they may play up until the week of their class championship game, as long as they don’t play more than 10 non-postseason games.

“It’s an option for a team that did not get a full, 10-game season,” Whaley said.

Information on the new policy can be found online at www.ossaa.com.

Follow News Press sports reporter Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for updates on Stillwater High and area prep sports.

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