Local coaches flummoxed figuring ’24, ’25 prep football scheduling

It’s about this time of year that high school football coaches begin fretting about their upcoming schedule. Is it too difficult? Is travel going to be a logistical problem?

But it’s not this year’s schedule they are worrying about these days. That’s been set in stone for two years.

It’s the 2024 (and 2025) schedule that has them, at least mildly, concerned.

They’ve already got plenty to worry about for this year as August workouts are now just days ahead. But the work has already begun in forming what the schedule will look like beyond this year.

And it’s not easy.

NFL schedules are year to year, but they are based on a formula. About 75 percent of the games are pre-determined with the remaining being filled in by the results of the previous season.

College football schedules are the other way. LSU has a date with Utah on Sept. 11, 2032. There’s a fourth-grader out there somewhere who will probably play in that game.

But high school football is Louisiana is done by two-year cycles (alternating between home and visitor in each of those years). However, the district schedules aren’t known until the re-classification takes place in January. Guess at your own risk on the size of your future district.

“It’s not fun, I can promise you,” said Haughton coach Jason Brotherton. “It’s quite stressful.”

And you definitely don’t want to be in a district with an odd number of teams; that means there will likely be a date to fill in the middle of the district season. That could mean a 200-mile trip to find another team with an open date that same weekend.

Or not.

That’s what Loyola did when a Week 5 opponent reneged on an agreement. Head coach Mike Greene looked around a little bit, but quickly found that the only teams that were available were either (1) too far away, (2) too many steps up the food chain for the Class 2A Flyers, or (3) both.

But because it came in the week before district play began, Greene used it as an opportunity to heal from a brutal non-district schedule. It worked as the Flyers won their next four games after the open date.

It can be even worse for schools who don’t know what classification they are going to be in. Take Northwood, for example. The Falcons could be in Class 4A (where they are now) or get bumped to Class 5A.

As a Class 4A school, head coach Austin Brown has received calls from two of the biggest Class 5A powers in Louisiana. “We are attractive to them because of the power points they would get from playing us,” Brown said. “But if we are 5A and might go 5-5? Not so much.”

The easiest game to fill is the first week and many schools use that to play a non-district, traditional rival. (Northwood has already filled that in the future with Benton.)

“It’s like anything else,” said Huntington coach Stephen Dennis. “You look at the size of a mountain and you think it’s too big to climb. But if you take it one step at a time, you realize you can do it. Everybody looks at it different. There are really several factors with lots of things to look at.”

Haughton coach Jason Brotherton is far less philosophical, but is driving down the same road.

“I go on the assumption that our district is going to be the same size,” he said. “It might not be, but that’s my starting point. Then I took at how many of those district games I think we will be favored in. If I think we can beat most of them, they I’ll play anybody (non-district). But if I think we are going to be middle of the pack, I’ve got to try to go find games I think we can win.”

And if you get stuck with an open date in Week 9? “You’re pretty limited in your options,” Brotherton said. “And if a lot of coaches are calling you, that must mean they don’t think you are very good and they think they can beat you.”

“You try not to be too late because you can get stuck,” Dennis said. “My thought process is to worry about Weeks 1 through 3. Typically you don’t have a district larger than eight teams. But I’m kinda of playing it both ways because I fully expect to be in 5A next year.”

The real scramble comes after the season when the district alignment begins to take shape. “If somebody is slow playing it and want to see what happens and if they can get a better deal, then I’ll go ahead and take the bird in the hand than wait on them,” Dennis said.

But if Northwood and Huntington both move up in 2024 and 2025, that would give the local 5A district 10 schools and would bring about two options: a nine-game district schedule or splitting the district into two 5-team districts.

“I’d rather have a five-team district, but we’d probably play the same people (in non-district),” Brotherton said “I think you could keep some of those games, but give you the liberty to play somebody else. If you are down, you want to be able to call around and find somebody you can be competitive against.”

Contact JJ at johnjamesmarshall@yahoo.com