Div. I-A Northern League expands football playoffs to six-team format starting in 2016
Beginning next season, the playoffs will be that much closer for the South Tahoe football team and its Div. I-A Northern League counterparts. The league voted last month to expand the regional playoff field from four to six teams starting in 2016.
“We’re really excited about it,” South Tahoe athletic director Tony Sunzeri said. “We like that our league is really equitable and that there’s a lot of parity, and this gives every school an opportunity to fight for something late in the season.”
Div. I-A Northern League — which will be renamed Northern AAA for the 2016-17 school year — now has six playoff teams in football, basketball, soccer, baseball and soccer. For football, the January vote puts a six-team postseason in place through the four-year realignment cycle in 2020.
“The playoff atmosphere that comes along with athletics is an exciting time that a majority of the athletes at South Tahoe just want to experience,” Sunzeri said. “It’s an experience that will last a lifetime.”
Seven of the league’s nine football schools voted for the expansion via email, including South Tahoe. Truckee voted against it, and Wooster did not vote.
“We think the fans deserve to see their teams in the playoffs and will enjoy it,” Sunzeri said. “They would come out in droves — the town rallies around playoffs.”
Under first-year head coach Louis Franklin in 2015, the Vikings went 4-6 and finished in sixth place — outside the postseason. With the new format South Tahoe would have earned the last playoff spot and faced third-seeded Spring Creek, who it lost to 33-27 to open league play.
“We would have been ready to go and ready to battle,” Franklin said. “There’s no reason why we should ever be outside of the top six, and it gives all teams a better opportunity.”
Next season, the first round of the regional playoffs will be held Oct. 27-29 with the third seed hosting the sixth seed and the fourth seed hosting the fifth seed. The top two teams will earn a bye.
In the second round Nov. 4-5, the top seed will play the lowest remaining seed and the second seed will face the highest remaining seed — both games will be held at campus sites. The NIAA Board of Control will determine state playoffs.
In addition to more teams having a chance at the postseason, the biggest argument for expanding the playoffs actually had to do with the regular season. For the entire league, a six-team format puts more on the line for more teams during the last weeks of the regular season.
“It’s nice when weeks nine and 10 are important, and I think you’re going to get that sense from a lot more teams,” Franklin said. “It breeds a better quality of football when the kids are still into it.”
With an additional playoff round, the league moved its entire schedule up one week to Aug. 26-27 and eliminated a nonleague season opener. South Tahoe opens its 2016 campaign at Sparks on Aug. 26, instead of its initially scheduled opener against Div. I opponent North Valleys (Reno, Nev.).