The high school soccer playoff pairings were announced Sunday, signaling the start of the march to the state championship for teams across the state.
Mark Matlock has coached high school soccer for 18 years at four different local schools (currently the head boys and girls coach at Loyola). So he’s seen how the sport has – and hasn’t developed – through the years at the prep level in Louisiana.
Not surprisingly, he’s got some things he’d like to see changed about high school soccer. He explains:
1. The LHSAA currently has very rigid rules in regards to concurrent participation on your high school team and your club team. There are a few specific exceptions to attend a showcase tournament or to participate in ODP (Olympic Development Program), but this limits your ability to train with your club team on a weekday. High school soccer is one of the few sports where players rarely get recruited through high school play. These rules limit the exposure of players that are looking to continue playing after high school. The majority of state associations do not prohibit concurrent play and leave that to the coaches/parents to manage. If a player is participating on an ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) team they cannot join their high school team until all league games have been completed (roughly half way through the season). We should be trying to maximize the exposure of these players, not limit it. At Loyola, we had one player who could not play with us until the middle of December.
2. Do away with set districts. While I know that a district championship is a great accomplishment, it forces teams to play each other that should not play. If you look at the score lines throughout the season, you will see a common theme of a large number of 8-0 mercy rule games. Most of these are due to district matchups where neither team benefits from playing. New programs that are trying to build a soccer team for the first time should not be forced to play a top five team in the state (sometimes twice). The way districts are organized, there can often be extended travel to ultimately play 40 minutes. Currently the district champions earn a playoff berth. Power rankings determine the seeding in the playoffs. It is my opinion that we should use power rankings to determine all playoff teams. If I coach a top team in the state, I should be able to schedule the teams that are an appropriate competition level for my team. If I have a new team, I should be able to schedule teams that we are competitive with in order to not discourage participation by constantly being beat down by teams we are forced to play.
3. Need to fix flaws within the power ranking system. Currently there is no strength of schedule factor when determining power ranking.
How power ranking is determined:
Win – 5 points plus 100 percent of opponents wins
Tie – 2.5 points plus 75 percent of opponents wins
Loss – No points plus 50 percent of opponents wins
The system does not know the difference between teams that win 15 games against very weak competition or a top 5 team that has a .500 record against top competition. You also should not be able to get more points for losing a game than a team does for winning a game. For example – Team A has 20 wins, Team B has 0 wins. Team A wins the game and gets 5 points for the win based on the formula. Team B loses the game and gets 50 percent of opponents wins (10 points) for the loss. Eliminating district play would probably fix the majority of these cases as well.
4. Finals Locations.Another one on my mind is the location of the finals being primarily in South Louisiana. It is a two-year bid to host but in our six finals appearances, three have been in New Orleans, two have been in Hammond, and one was in Lafayette. Guess which one we won? Well, we didn’t have five-plus hours of travel while the other team typically slept in their own beds the night before.
Mr. Matlock rests his case.
Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL