Inside Selection Sunday: Mapnalysis '15

October 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Consider that one hour Sunday night was the product of nine weeks of games on top of two more weeks of practice, hours of lifting weights, conditioning and camps and a total of six months of work at the MHSAA office, in addition to hours upon hours put in by athletic directors scheduling years in advance.

The anticipation for the release of another year's MHSAA Football Playoff pairings is matched by a giant exhale only after the results are broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit, streamed online and posted on locker room doors and Facebook walls all over our state.

And then the fun begins again. 

But the Selection Sunday Show is the favorite hour of the season for many fans across our state. And that’s why, for the fifth year, we’ll explain our most difficult decisions in this Mapnalysis 2015 breakdown of how we paired 272 teams that will play next month for championships across nine divisions.

For those familiar with our playoff selection process, or who have read this report in the past and don’t want a refresher on how we do what we do, skip the next section and go directly to the “Observations & Answers: 2015.” For the rest, what follows is an explanation of how we selected the playoff pairings during the morning hours Sunday, followed by how we made some of the toughest decisions and a few thoughts on the breakdown of the field. 

Ground Rules

Our past: The MHSAA 11-player 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 Regionals 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 a record-low 216 automatic qualifiers by win total – with the final 40 at-large then selected, by playoff-point average, one from each class in order (A, B, C, D) until the field was filled. There were only four Class D additional qualifiers with 5-4 or 4-4 (playing eight games) records from which we could choose – so after those four we added 12 teams each from Class A, Class B and Class C.

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. 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. 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 & Answers: 2015  

Go north with ease: For the most part, most Regional pairings were easier to draw than in past years. For the most part. Divisions 2 and 4 were not easy, specifically when it came to deciding which teams would be paired with an Upper Peninsula qualifier or a team from the Traverse City area. Keep in mind, distance on these maps isn’t based on how the bird flies, but how a bus would drive. In Division 2, that meant putting Muskegon, Muskegon Mona Shores and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern – near U.S. 31 and U.S. 131  with Traverse City Central instead of sending Midland and Midland Dow west, up I-75 and then east-to-west again on more non-highway roads. In Division 4, we considered pairing Alma and Saginaw Swan Valley with Escanaba instead of Big Rapids and Remus Chippewa Hills. That decision came down to Big Rapids being about 14 miles closer to Escanaba than Swan Valley (Whitehall would go with Big Rapids and Chippewa Hills regardless.).

Four counties wide: Yes, on first glance it looks a little odd that Bay City John Glenn and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s would be in the same Division 3 District – but look at the map as a whole. Eight Division 3 teams are located south and mostly east of St. Mary’s, and John Glenn is the only team that could be considered in the northeastern quarter of the Lower Peninsula (Mount Pleasant and Gaylord are right down the middle and naturals to go with Sault Ste. Marie and Petoskey.). With the thumb playoff qualifiers of near-similar size in Division 4, there were no other options than to create this four-county trip between the Eaglets and Bobcats.

Semifinal selection: When all the Regional lines are drawn for a division, we also must figure out which Regionals will meet for Semifinals. This annually provides some challenges. Do we match east vs. west or north vs. south? If something seems iffy in four weeks when those games are played, again, keep in mind the entire map and entire Regionals that are matched up.

Scheduled strong: Because we’re looking only at dots on a map, we don’t see the matchups until everything is drawn – and in that way, we’re like everyone else. It wasn’t lost on us that two 9-0 teams will have road games this week or three 5-4 at-large qualifiers will be at home. For those 9-0 teams, it’s true: there’s nothing more they could’ve done on the field. But here’s why they will travel.

  • Clinton, in Division 6, hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2011, and in fact plays in a strong Tri-County Conference made up of Class C schools and one Class D. Four of eight from the league made the playoffs, and the competition was so strong that Morenci and Petersburg-Summerfield will host games in Division 8. But Clinton’s opponent, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, while it did have one loss, fell to one-loss Class B Lansing Catholic – and the Falcons played eight Class B and one Class A school this season. Beating a Class B team is worth 16 points more than beating a Class C and 32 more than beating a Class D (with those points then divided over the number of games a team plays that season) – and all of that made the difference in St. Mary’s final eight-point playoff average edge over Clinton.
  • Saugatuck in Division 7 is a similar story. The Indians are one of three undefeated teams in their District, and did play a pair of Class B opponents. But by no fault of their own, especially in league play where the schedule is set, Saugatuck didn’t face a team this season that won more than five games. Hesperia played three Class B opponents including one that finished 6-3 – enough for the slim 1.8 points more in playoff average that earned the Panthers homefield advantage. Pewamo-Westphalia has the highest average in the District and didn’t play a Class B – the Pirates actually played three Class D teams. But they also beat four teams that made the playoffs including two that finished 8-1 – giving them a 2.7-point edge on Hesperia and 4.5 edge on Saugatuck.
  • The 5-4 teams that will host – Redford Thurston in Division 3 and Escanaba and Benton Harbor in Division 4, all earned their spots. Escanaba faced six playoff teams and beat three, Class B Benton Harbor played eight Class A teams, and Thurston played five playoff teams and a sixth that just missed an at-large bid.  

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.

Those who would like to see the playoff selection process changed are in favor of a larger strength-of-schedule component, and it’s interesting to see how strength of schedule inadvertently made a larger impact this season than in the recent past – especially given the examples above of undefeated teams going on the road and at-large teams hosting.

Why were there fewer automatic qualifiers than ever before? Here's one theory. There were 11 fewer teams in 11-player football this season than in 2014 (most moved to 8-player). An argument can be made that there were fewer wins to be gained against teams that last season might have struggled to field 11-player teams, shifting the balance to fewer automatic qualifiers and more parity with stronger teams facing each other to fill their schedules.

Meanwhile, the 8-player field grew by nine teams this fall and has its strongest ever, with seven teams that finished 5-4 missing the postseason after a team with a sub-.500 record got in just a year ago.

Given how some matchups shook out this fall, the next argument by those seeking change likely will center on seeding entire Regionals instead of just Districts. But keep this in mind as well: if Regionals were seeded with this year's groupings, it would create possibilities of first-week trips like Battle Creek to Traverse City and Cedar Springs to Sault Ste. Marie. We're fairly sure most coaches and players would dread such journeys for a first-round game. 

It's a lot to digest, and the scrutinizing will surely continue long after these playoffs are done as we all work to conduct the best tournament possible. 

But at the end of the day – and the end of these next five weeks – to be the best, teams will need to beat the best no matter the matchups. And we’ve got plenty to look forward to starting this weekend and all the way through the 11-player Division 3 Final on Nov. 28 at Ford Field.

The MHSAA Football Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTO: The Division 4 map was among the most difficult to draw during this year's selection process.

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.

“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”

Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.

“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.

Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.

As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.

He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.

“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.

John GuilleanGuillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.

“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.

Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.

At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.

“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”

Great anticipation

Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.

In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.

Derek GriblerGribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.

“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”

Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.

“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”

In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.

“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.

“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”

Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.

“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”

Big shoes to fill

As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.

Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.

Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.

Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.

“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.

As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”

His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.

He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.

“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”

Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.

“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.

“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)