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The Usual Suspects

It is difficult to find a year when the 11-player Football Finals of the Michigan High School Athletic Association involved more teams from southeast Michigan than appeared at Ford Field in 2016. In fact, just two counties (Oakland and Wayne) produced seven finalists. But then two counties on Michigan’s west side (Kent and Muskegon) supplied four of the 16 finalists.

Four of Michigan’s 83 counties producing 11 of 16 finalists in the 11-player championship games doesn’t’ feel like a statewide event; but one team from the Upper Peninsula, another from the Leelanau Peninsula in the northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula, and a team located along the Michigan/Ohio border remind us how large and diverse our state really is.

The 2016 MHSAA 11-player Football Finals consisted of many of the “usual suspects,” including two teams pursuing their fourth straight titles and one team seeking its third consecutive championship. Four of the eight 11-player champions from 2015 returned in the attempt to defend their titles in 2016, and two of the runners-up in 2015 were back to try to reverse their fortunes from 12 months earlier.

What is being demonstrated here in Michigan high school football is the trend seen in many other states. That is, as the number of classes or divisions of tournaments expands, the more often you see the same teams in the final rounds.

The surest way to have the “usual suspects” on championship day is to put them in tournaments with fewer schools. And of all MHSAA tournaments, the football playoffs have the most divisions with the fewest schools in each. The result is predictable.

This is a cautionary tale for those who desire that the number of classifications and divisions be expanded in MHSAA tournaments for other sports.

Meanwhile, we are keeping an eye on the tournament format in a neighboring state that places schools into divisions for larger schools after they are too successful over consecutive years in the classification that fits their enrollment. Those in Michigan who have been assigned to review such policies have complained that such “success factors” penalize future students because of the achievements of previous students and/or because such factors do nothing about “chronic success” by schools in the largest classification.

Posted in: Tournaments

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 44 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for seven years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is vice chair and secretary of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.