Inside Selection Sunday: Mapnalysis '14
Inside Selection Sunday: Mapnalysis '14
Posted Sunday, October 26, 2014
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The pictures we drew Sunday morning at the MHSAA office won’t be found hanging on anyone’s walls.
But we worked toward something suitable for framing, designing this season’s football playoff brackets while considering the months and years of work put in by our schools and their teams, parents and fans to earn an opportunity to continue their seasons this weekend.
The work completed today to draw up the 2014 MHSAA Football Playoffs began long before opening night in August. Our football tournament is like none other sponsored by the MHSAA – it’s the only team tournament in which every team doesn’t qualify – and we began talking about this tournament not long after last season’s champions were decided.
Then came April and May and tracking down schedules for 613 MHSAA varsity football teams, plus 45 out-of-state opponents our Michigan schools were set to play including 14 from Ontario and one from Minnesota.
The fun part was monitoring the scores and standings for all of these teams over the nine weeks of the regular season, each Friday night a stream of chatter from kickoff into our weekly highlights show on Fox Sports Detroit.
And then came Sunday – and navigating the most difficult maps to draw in my four seasons assisting in the process.
We often have versions “a” and “b” and on occasion “c” when considering which best accomplishes our goal – to create the correct geographical picture for each of eight 11-player divisions and our 8-player bracket.
Sunday morning, we saw a version “e” for the first time I can remember and some shapes that didn’t make much sense without explanation.

Some of those explanations are below – the stories behind how we made some of the toughest decisions. I start with a quick history lesson you can skip if you’re familiar with this annual report or our playoff selection process in general, then move into some of the specifics many will be discussing this week as they begin focusing on their Pre-District opponents. (Click for the full schedule.)

The process

Our past: The MHSAA playoff structure – with 256 teams in eight divisions, and six wins equaling an automatic berth (or five wins for teams playing eight or fewer games) – debuted in 1999. An 8-player tournament was added in 2011, resulting in nine champions total each season.

The first playoffs were conducted in 1975 with four champions. Four more football classes were added in 1990 for a total of eight champions each fall. Through 1998, only 128 teams made the postseason, based on their playoff point averages within regions (four for each class) that were drawn before the beginning of the season. The drawing of Districts and Regions after the end of the regular season did not begin until the most recent playoff expansion.

In early years of the current process, lines were drawn by hand. Dots representing qualifying schools were pasted on maps, one map for each division, and those maps were then covered by plastic sheets. Districts and Regionals literally were drawn with dry-erase markers.

Our present: After a late Saturday night tracking scores, we file in as the sun rises Sunday morning for a final round of gathering results we may still need (which can include making a few early a.m. calls to athletic directors). Re-checking and triple-checking of enrollments, what schools played in co-ops and opted to play as a higher class start a week in advance, and more numbers are crunched Sunday morning as the fields are set.

This season, there were 229 automatic qualifiers by win total – with the final 27 at-large then selected, by playoff-point average, one from each class in order (A, B, C, D) until the field is filled.

Those 256 11-player teams are then split into eight equal divisions based on enrollment, and their locations are marked on digital maps that are projected on wall-size screens and then discussed by nearly half of the MHSAA staff plus a representative from the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association. Only the locations themselves are marked (by yellow dots) – not records, playoff point averages or names of the schools or towns. In fact, mentions of those are strictly prohibited. Records and playoff points are not part of the criteria. Matchups, rivalries, previous playoff pairings, etc. also DO NOT come into play.

The same process is followed for organizing the 8-player bracket, with the difference that the 16 teams are selected purely on playoff-point average.

Geography rules: This long has been rule number one for drawing MHSAA brackets in any sport, and is a repeat as well for those who have read this report the last three Octobers. Travel distance and ease DO come into play. Jumping on a major highway clearly is easier than driving across county-wide back roads, and that’s taken into consideration. Also, remember there’s only one Mackinac Bridge and hence only one way to cross between peninsulas – and boats are not considered a possible form of transportation. When opponents from both peninsulas will be in the same District, distance to the bridge is far more important than as the bird flies.

Tradition doesn’t reign: Every group of 32 dots is a new group – these 32 teams have not been placed in a bracket together before. That said, how maps have been drawn in the past isn’t considered – it’s hard to say a division has been drawn in a certain way traditionally when this set of 32 teams is making up a division for the first time.

Observations and answers: 2014  

Class A ripple: A total of 80 Class A teams qualified for the playoffs in 2013 after three seasons of 79 each. But 89 Class A teams are part of the 2014 field, and that increase in turn shifted a number of smaller schools into different divisions – including some annual favorites. Muskegon, Division 2 runner-up the last two seasons, is in Division 3. Marine City, last season’s Division 4 champion, will play in Division 5. Five-time Division 5 champ Jackson Lumen Christi moved into Division 6, where it could be the toughest obstacle as Ithaca attempts to win that division for the fifth straight season.
Stranger on paper: Yes, Division 1’s District 2 stretches from Grandville to Hartland. This isn’t a desirable outcome, but was necessary with this field. Six districts are filled with teams all east of U.S. 23, and a seventh is completely north and west of Grand Rapids. That left the four teams in the middle – Grandville, East Kentwood, Grand Ledge and Hartland.
Something similar came down in the 8-player bracket – why would we break up four teams in the Thumb to include three with Big Rapids Crossroads Academy all the way west of U.S. 127? It had to do with creating the appropriate semifinal matchup for whichever team emerges from the Rapid River/Cedarville/Engadine/Bellaire regional; keeping the Thumb teams together might’ve meant Lawrence or Waldron from near the Indiana border going all the way to Rapid River instead of Thumb teams that are still far away but closer to the convenient highways.
Line falls through Warren: Division 2 presented a few challenges. There are five districts made up of schools predominantly in the Greater Detroit and Port Huron areas, so one was going to end up potentially matching up farther from home. At first we drew a region across the bottom of the Lower Peninsula that connected teams from the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek area with a district from Ypsilanti and south of Detroit. But rearranging districts to draw a line between Warren DeLaSalle and Warren Counsino, although they’re nearly neighbors, helped make the rest of the map much cleaner – and eliminated that I-94 Regional we didn’t prefer.
Deconstructing D3: This was another toughie given the locations of teams involved. Three districts are all east of U.S. 23 and south of Pontiac, and four more are all west and/or north of Greater Lansing. Usually the Lansing area has a large share of Division 3 qualifiers – but not this season. So that left five schools somewhat without a sure home – St. Johns, DeWitt, Mason, Tecumseh and Linden. DeWitt is much closer to Mason and even Tecumseh, with the differences between St. Johns and DeWitt to Linden and St. Johns and DeWitt to Grand Rapids small enough to cancel out in the big picture.
Stretching Division 6: In the end, this map looks good – but there was a lot of conversation. The tough part was finding the fairest possible situation for whichever district champ might end up playing Negaunee – Bad Axe in the Thumb, Madison Heights Madison or Warren Michigan Collegiate as possibilities coming out of northern Detroit, or even Fennville near Lake Michigan south of Holland. Proximity to I-75 helped make this decision.

Crisscrossing Division 8: Figuring out this bracket started out easy enough with eight teams in the Upper Peninsula or just south of Mackinac Bridge and with the southwest and southeast Lower Peninsula set. But a group of 10 across the top of the Lower Peninsula – including neighbors Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, Beal City and Coleman – made this interesting. A rule of thumb is we don’t want a team passing through a different district or regional to reach its opponent – and with three teams so closely bunched, that was a challenge in drawing this one out.  

At the end of the day ... 

What you see is what our committee decided upon after multiple discussions among multiple groups that broke down every sensible possibility we could muster. There are certainly points open to argument – and we likely made those arguments as well.

In the end, we present a group of dots on a map – as stated above, we don’t identify the schools until after the groupings are drawn. Part of the fun is then finding out what first-round matchups we’ve created: Muskegon Mona Shores vs. Caledonia and Detroit Martin Luther King vs. Southfield should be incredible, as well as the Ishpeming/Westwood and Iron Mountain/West Iron County rivalry games in the Upper Peninsula.
And no doubt, those who play for and support Burton Atherton, Ypsilanti Community, first-year Lapeer High School, Big Rapids Crossroads and New Haven Merritt Academy are ready to enjoy the playoff ride for the first time.

We’re excited to watch them all – and see which end up in Detroit with us to finish the fall over Thanksgiving weekend. We hope to see you there as well.

PHOTO: The Division 4 map for 11-player football has each region shaded; champion of the white plays green in a semifinal with yellow facing blue in the other. 


# Jim Chapman
Monday, October 27, 2014 1:39 AM
In my opinion this was the WORST designed bracket I have seen the MHSAA come up with in years. D3 is really bad. While not a desirable bracket, the MHSAA's stated goal of travel distance and ease was obviously not followed in this bracket.

There is no way Tecumseh should have been in a bracket with DeWitt. There is absolutely no easy way to get from Tecumseh to DeWitt, nor is the trip short and quick.

The DeWitt District should have pulled OLSM as the most western teams in the Detroit area west with Linden DeWitt and Mason. Tecumseh should have been with NB Huron, Romulus and Trenton. Allen Park, Thurston, Divine Child and Riverview should have been a district, while Mumford, Fitzgerald, Woods Tower and Renaissance should have been a district. This would have saved a substantial amount of travel for several teams.

I also disagree a little bit with the placement of Muskegon and the Grand Rapids schools from a travel standpoint, but that is basically a wash that could got either way.

I also disagree with several other placement decisions made in D1.

While the brackets were not made easy by the location of teams from Hartland west, Region 1 is fine.

Utica Eisenhower should have been in region 2 District 1 not Clarkston. Clarkston should have been placed in it's more natural geographical fit with WLC, Waterford Mott and West Bloomfield. Livonia Stevenson should have been in a district with Northville, Livonia Churchill, and Westland John Glenn. Plymouth and Canton should have joined Monroe and Saline as a district. Dearborn, Fordson, Cass Tech and Warren Mott should have been a district. Fraser would then have joined their more natural fit in Chip. Valley, SH Stevenson, and Dakota.

In D2 the only change I can see that should have been made would be Farmington and Harrison switching, but that was a wash either way.

D6 I also think should have been drawn differently. In this division to accurate draw the map, you should have started in the SE portion of the state. MH Madison, Clinton, Monroe SMCC and Michigan Collegiate in one district with Manchester, Grass Lake, Hanover Horton and Jackson Lumen Christi as the second district in this region. Montrose, Beecher, Millington and Bad Axe as one district paired with Tawas, Sanford Meridian, St. Charles and Ithaca. The third region would be districts of Neguanee and the 3 TC area schools in one district and Leroy Pine River, Ravenna, CCC, and Morely Stanwood. The final region would be a district of Northpoint Christian, Fennville, Watervliet, and Brandywine pair with a district of Hillsdale, Quincy, Schoolcraft and Constantine.

D4 I might have looked at reorganizing Region 1 into an E-W split rather than the N-S split.

D7 I would have switch P-W and Dansville around using I-96 as the basic split between the districts.

D8 looks like the best map of all 8 divisions.

One the 8 man bracket I think the MHSAA screwed up again with their distance and travel ease idea.

Peck should have been in with the rest of the thumb schools in one region.

New Haven Merritt, Waldon, Morrice and Webberville should have been a region. Portland St. Pat's, BR Crossroads Lawrence and BC St. Phillip should have been a region.

There is no easy way to get from Big Rapids to Deckerville. It is a much easier drive from Big Rapids to Lawrence, Portland, or Battle Creek. Webberville to Waldron is an easier trip than Webberville to Peck. These 3 regionals all needed to be drawn differently, but at least Region 1 was done correctly.

Overall I am very unimpressed with the way the maps were drawn this season.
# Joe Kaltz
Monday, October 27, 2014 9:31 AM
Question: Why are schools allowed to drop down a division for the playoffs and not stay in the division bracket that they have played in all season and in some cases even won those conferences?
That seems unfair to the conference that they played in all season allowing some schools to face lesser competition while others have to face stiffer competition.
# chris brazis
Monday, October 27, 2014 12:44 PM
Geography rules...Why? By using that as a starting point it does NOT reward teams for great regular season records. 9-0 may be rewarded with 1 home game, only to go on the road and face another 9-0 team in Playoff Game#2, while the opposing divisional bracket(s) is/are loaded with NON 9-0 teams, who may get 2-3 home games, before having to win on the road. NSEW divisions are OK. But micro-managing whether a team drives an extra 1/2 hour, and NOT taking their regular season records into account, does NOT provide teams with ANY incentive to win all their games during the regular season. Just post 5-6 wins & maybe the MSHAA will be nice & pair you in a weak bracket & thus your 5-6 win team MAY end up getting 2 home games. THIS IS NOT ACCETABLE. Regular season should weigh more than location when MSHAA maps the brackets.
Monday, October 27, 2014 3:22 PM
Joe: The MHSAA does not set divisions for 11-player football until the 256-team field is selected after Week 9. The divisions you have seen are used by the media for its regular-season polls or on this site as something of a forecast based on where teams have slotted in the past by traditional enrollment breaks -- but we can't officially set up divisions for the tournament until after the regular season because we don't know what schools will qualify. For example, as stated above, we had more Class A schools qualify this season, which pushed some smaller schools down into different divisions than they had played in the past. Also, anything league-related is completely unrelated to the tournament and decided by the schools themselves - we do not assign schools to leagues. Most leagues include schools of different enrollment sizes that play in different divisions for the playoffs.
# Michael Lehman
Monday, October 27, 2014 9:49 PM
In regard to 8 man football. How is it that Portland St. Patrick defeated Morrice on Friday, October 24th and has do go to Lawrence on Saturday, November 1st and Morrice will play host to a lesser opponent on that same weekend? Explanation?
Thank you,
Michael Lehman
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 9:47 AM
Michael: Portland St. Patrick and Morrice are in different regions -- the tournament is set up geographically, with seeding then done within each Regional. Morrice went east with three more schools on that side of 127, while St. Patrick went west with three more on that side of the Lower Peninsula.

If we seeded the entire tournament, we'd have matchups like Webberville traveling to Rapid River in the first round -- obviously not preferable from a travel standpoint.
# Michael Lehman
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 8:01 PM
Thanks Geoff.
That being said, match ups should of been: #1 Lawrence hosting #4 Waldron and #2 St. Phillip hosting #3 St. Patrick.
Michael Lehman

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