The IHSA hands out playoff spots


Ben Baker-Katz, Sports Columnist

The goal of sports is to win, it is what makes athletics competitive. So, what if winning didn’t really matter at all, at least for the majority of your season? In every professional and collegiate sport, you must qualify for the postseason. But somehow, the IHSA hasn’t gotten the hint.

After the regular season comes the playoffs, everyone’s favorite part of the season. Ever heard of March Madness? There’s a reason everyone suddenly becomes interested in their computer screens when March rolls around. In order to qualify for the tournament, you must either win your conference or show strength throughout the regular season. Playoffs becomes a time to watch the best of the best of any sport compete against each other. Or so we thought.

In fact, the IHSA has only one sport in which you have to qualify for the playoffs: football. To secure a playoff seeding, a team must win at least six regular-season games. Teams with five wins also have a chance to move into the postseason, but only based off of “playoff points,” a system that uses the wins of the opponents you beat in the regular season. When only winning teams are guaranteed a playoff spot, the regular season games become significantly more important.

This is not to say that the regular season is meaningless. Team’s results during the regular season impact their seeding in the playoff bracket, which can either make their path to the championship easier or more difficult. But the issue is that everyone gets in. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. A team could, hypothetically, not win a single regular season game and still win the state championship.

This reality threatens the competitive nature of athletics. It has the potential to create a culture in which competition is not valued. While this hasn’t been the case up to this point, what is stopping Coach Ellis from sitting Lance Jones, Jaheim Holden and Ryan Bost on the bench during the regular season in an attempt to develop the rest of the team? What was preventing Coach Anderson from letting Annie Hedges and Margot Connor sit out in the week leading up to the playoffs? Nothing, there’s no rule discouraging this from happening. If you ask any coach, they will tell you that their goal is to win games. But without pressure to make playoffs, then they are essentially meaningless.

However, there is an easy fix. The IHSA should treat every sport as they currently treat football. Teams should be required to win a certain number of games or meets or matches, whatever it may be, in order to qualify for their postseason. There is no harm in doing this, seeing as the teams that currently go the farthest into the postseason are the ones that play well in the regular season anyway. In actuality, games towards the end of the regular season will start to matter more as teams compete against each other, fighting for a playoff spot. You can’t be absent during every class and get an A on the final, and you can’t drop out of high school and expect to get into college; why should the playoffs be any different?