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Local Football Weekend: A question of fairness

October 11. 2018 10:41PM
Londonderry High quarterback Evan Cormier sifts through the Pinkerton Academy defense during the Sept. 21 game at Lancer Park. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

Londonderry High School's 38-34 triumph over Winnacunnet last Friday night was one of the most entertaining games of the NHIAA season thus far. The good news is those teams may meet again in the Division I playoffs.

Barring the unforeseen, Winnacunnet (5-1) will finish first in the East Conference. Londonderry (5-1) is tied with Pinkerton Academy (5-1) for first place in the South Conference, but would lose a tiebreaker with Pinkerton if both finish 8-1 since the Astros won the regular-season matchup.

Let’s assume Pinkerton and Londonderry both finish the season with one loss. That means Winnacunnet would have at least two losses entering the playoffs, since the Warriors and Astros will meet in Week 9.

That scenario, a plausible one, would illustrate the major problem with the Division I playoff format. Londonderry and Winnacunnet would have played the same opponents during the regular season, Londonderry would finish with a better record than Winnacunnet, and Londonderry would have won the head-to-head meeting with WInnacunnet. So of course the playoff rematch would be played in … Hampton? That’s right. For whatever reason, the NHIAA awards each conference champion a home game for the Division I quarterfinals regardless of that team’s record. It’s not a stretch to say Winnacunnet could finish 6-3 and Londonderry 8-1 since, in addition to Pinkerton, the Warriors will play a 4-2 Salem team tonight.

If Winnacunnet played a different schedule than Londonderry, awarding a home game to a conference champion would make sense. In that situation, a team with an inferior record could have faced a much tougher schedule. That’s not the case in Division I, however, where teams in each of the two playoff brackets (South/East and North/West) all face the same opponents during the regular season. In the scenario we’ve presented, Londonderry would have earned a home playoff game against Winnacunnet by every standard.

If two students take the same test, do you give the one who scored an 80 a higher grade than the one who scored a 90? Of course not.

A better format would be to seed teams in each bracket one through four, based on record and use the head-to-head result to break ties (and other NHIAA tiebreakers if necessary). Making the team with the superior record go on the road for the playoffs, especially when the team with the better record also won the regular-season matchup? That isn’t fair.

Goffstown High quarterback Charlie Keith takes a shotgun snap during the Manchester Central game at Gill Stadium last Friday. The Grizzlies won, 21-18. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

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Lopsided final scores in Division III, an issue many thought would go away when a fourth division was added this season, continue to be a problem.

Of the 36 Division III games played this season, six have been decided by 10 points or fewer. There have been 23 games decided by at least 20 points, and 16 decided by 30 points or more. The average margin of victory is 26.4 points per game.

Rather than adding a fourth division, a better solution would have been to encourage the strong Division III programs — Campbell, Monadnock and perhaps Trinity — to compete in Division II. That would also allow some of the weaker Division II programs like Pembroke, Kingswood and maybe Merrimack Valley to play in Division III, at least temporarily.

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The No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Union Leader Power Poll have faced each other in the Division I championship game in each of the past seven seasons. That streak might grow to eight if Bedford, the No. 1 team in this week’s poll, faces Pinkerton, Londonderry or Winnacunnet for the title this year. The Astros, Lancers and Warriors are ranked No. 2 through No. 4, respectively.

Teams that have finished No. 1 in the Power Poll, which was first published in 2008: Nashua South (2008), Bishop Guertin (2009), Pinkerton (2010), Exeter (2011), Exeter (2012), Concord (2013), Pinkerton (2014), Goffstown (2015), Bedford (2016) and Winnacunnet (2017).

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Teams from the South Conference have won four of the six Division II crossover games against North Conference opponents this season. This weekend’s crossover game will be played Saturday, when Alvirne (5-1) visits John Stark (4-2) in Weare. The other remaining regular-season crossover games are Gilford-Belmont at Sanborn next weekend, and Bow at Souhegan of Amherst in Week 9.

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Goffstown has won three games in a row to even its record at 3-3, and will likely qualify for the Division I playoffs if it can win its three remaining regular-season games. 

The final three opponents on Goffstown’s schedule are all below the .500-mark: Nashua South (2-4), Bishop Guertin (1-5) and Keene (1-5).

Goffstown will win tiebreakers against Central (3-3) and Concord (4-2). Although Concord has a better record than Goffstown, the Crimson Tide still have to play Merrimack (5-1), Central (3-3) and Nashua North (5-1).

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