American Press high school sports reporter Troy LaFleur.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 03, 2013 2:41 PM
In the state of Louisiana, scheduling a game against a state powerhouse is beneficial, win or lose, because it earns you power points.
For those who don’t know what power points are, don’t worry, even those of us who work closely with high school football are still trying to figure them out.
Apparently, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association uses the power-ranking format to determine which teams are better than others by strength of schedule, the amount of points you win by and a whole bunch of other factors that we can’t begin to comprehend.
It’s like Louisiana has its very own version of the Bowl Championship Series.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh.
The power rankings usually work out in favor of the highly ranked teams in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association prep polls and anyone with a good record, but that can’t even come close to compensating for the annual head-scratchers of having 3-7 teams with tough schedules sneak into the playoffs ahead of teams with 5-5 records or better.
Apparently, when whoever is in charge of conjuring up these power rankings is hard at work, they dish out a certain number of points to the winning team. Sounds easy enough.
Then every team that played a school in a higher classification than them receives points based on how high up they played. Not by how good the team in question actually is, but by how much larger of a school.
From there each team receives a certain value of points based on whether each team on its schedule won or lost that week.
Throw in a few points here and there for this and that, divide the total by the number of games played and I think you get your power ranking.
Based on this formula, teams have been structuring their schedules to earn as many power points as they can every year.
And why not? If you can lose to a few powerhouses and then sweep most of your district, you will be sitting pretty with a first-round home game come playoff time.
Power rankings remain the largest reason throughout the state as to why some teams play such brutal nondistrict schedules. But for some schools, particularly Class 5A and 4A teams, there isn’t much to be earned by playing larger schools. Instead, some of these programs elect to challenge themselves early every year by facing the best of the best.
LaGrange, for example, plays what is possibly the toughest nondistrict schedule in the entire state every year. In 2013, the Gators opened with Notre Dame, which has competed in six of the last 10 Class 3A state championship games. They followed that with Barbe, which is ranked No. 1 in the state in 5A after finishing runner-up in 2012. Their next two games were against perennial contenders University Lab and Calvary Baptist.
Yes, LaGrange stands to benefit in the power rankings from such a difficult schedule, but will only earn points for playing up against Barbe.
Head coach Jules Sullen has admitted to building such difficult schedules in order to see where his team stands against the best of the best, and you can’t fault him for that. You get a much better assessment of your team from seeing them play a 10-0 team than an 0-10 team.
Other teams in Southwest Louisiana that have opened their season against highly ranked teams or bigger schools are St. Louis, which has played Notre Dame, West Feliciana and Sam Houston, and Sulphur, which opened its year with St. Thomas More and Holy Cross.
You can’t help but agree with both arguments for playing a tough schedule. Earning power points will get you into the state playoffs and that will not be changing anytime soon, so why not give your team a chance to reach it?
And seeing how well your team performs against a potential state champion is the ultimate measuring stick.
However, at some point the coaches who are designing such difficult schedules must think about the welfare and morale of their squads.
Looking forward to the playoffs or testing your mettle against a great team are exciting, but after so many losses can you really expect a bunch of high schoolers not to hang their heads and have their pride hurt?
Momentum is a huge part of any sport and having your team’s morale and confidence at the highest level possible is key to keep momentum in your favor. In order to do so, your team has to win some games.
I am not saying that any of these teams had no chance in winning any of the big games, but when you are playing three to four games against such high-level competition you have to realistically expect that you aren’t going to get out of there with an unblemished record.
Not only can a team’s morale get hurt, but playing against competition with future college players week in and week out could potentially affect it physically as well. If a team has a star player go down against a state power, it runs the risk of not being able to catch up in the power rankings.
Coaching football is far from an easy task, and I would personally hate to have to organize a 10-week schedule, but every coach needs to take his team’s confidence and well being into careful consideration before they plan their quest to the playoffs.
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Troy LaFleur covers high school athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org