The Texas high school football state playoffs are supposed to showcase the cream of the crop, with a horde of teams competing for spots in the RivalsHigh 100, if not at the top of the standings altogether. The pop culture hype that surrounds the Friday Night Lights franchise (from its literary inception to televised nadir) only adds to the sentiment that Texas high school football is where the buck firmly stops. It's the promised land of prep football, complete with the likes of undefeated Katy (Texas) High, Euless (Texas) Trinity High and even 2-8 Del Valle (Texas) High.
Hold on. What is a 2-8 team doing in what is allegedly the toughest set of state playoffs in the country?
It's a valid question, and is related almost entirely to the idiosyncrasies of Texas' five class, two division format. To put it simply, because teams qualify for the state playoffs based on district record, and because each district has some schools which are slotted into their classification's Div. 1 and others into the class' Div. II, at least a few schools land a playoff berth almost by default.
That's certainly the case with Del Valle, which went 2-3 in District 15-5A, a record which, stunningly, was good enough to be the top seed in the district's 5A Div. II classification. As the Dallas Morning News' Matt Wixon points out, the district's top two teams -- state power Austin (Texas) Westlake High and Austin (Texas) Bowie High -- are both Div. I schools, which sent Del Valle smoothly into the Div. II bracket.
More incredibly still, because Del Valle is the top seed from 15-5A, it gets to host its first round playoff game against Pflugerville (Texas) High, which was nearly as woeful (the Panthers finished at 4-6). To be fair, the Cardinals did earn their playoff berth on the back of a big tie-breaking district victory, but that hardly seems to be justification for getting to host a Texas high school football playoff game.
It's examples precisely like this that have led RivalsHigh national analyst Dallas Jackson to call for an end to the University Interscholastic League's current two division playoff format. If all of the top teams in each Texas classification were forced to fight it out for one state title, the winner of that title would almost be assured of either A) a national title, or at least B) a a top-3 spot in the final standings. The depth of top quality programs in the Lone Star state is just that great.
Of the five Texas teams in the current top-25, only Allen, Euless Trinity and Skyline could face off in this year's tournament. Frighteningly, Euless Trinity and Allen might even have to face each other in the area round (that's the second round) as early as November 17.
It's an incredibly flawed system that crowns 12 state champions (counting the two six-man classifications), a number which is far too many for a state with as tough a proving ground as Texas. If you want more proof of that, all you have to do is check out a field in Austin on Friday, where two teams with a combined six wins will be fighting to play in an area round game.