MISSOULA — Mike Cole and Aric Harris know plenty about headaches these days.
Not because the two have fallen ill, but serving as presidents for high school athletics, the duo is now tasked with sorting out playoff scenarios in football as the final week of the regular season for Class AA, Class A, Class B and 8-Man continues this weekend.
Harris is the athletic director at Whitefish High School and Class A president while Cole serves as the president for 8-Man West football and is the AD at Plains High School.
Both conferences are working around different challenges, scenarios and solutions as the final week winds down.
Starting with the Western A, in the new format for football this year in Class A, only four teams from the Western and Eastern A divisions advance to the playoffs. In years past, six teams qualified.
In terms of seeding, the Western A is using no contests as wins for teams in the playoffs so records can be similar in total numbers so as to determine seeding. Otherwise, some teams would have more games on paper than others.
“We have a mess in the West,” Harris said. “The no contests will go in as wins for seeding purposes only. So basically, you’re looking at the losses, you’re going to have a bunch of teams with three losses.”
The Western A had eight games ruled as no contests, the Montana High School Association’s ruling when a game was canceled due to COVID-19. They were Polson-Stevensville, Dillon-Browning, Butte Central-Browning, Corvallis-Browning, Stevensville-Browning, Corvallis-Butte Central, Stevensville-Butte Central, and Friday’s game between Columbia Falls and Butte Central also a no contest.
Whitefish-Stevensville was an official forfeit for Stevi while Butte Central forfeited its opener against Hamilton at the beginning of the season.
“When we came into this, everybody was playing a nine-game schedule and sure enough the first week we had a cancellation," Harris said. "Every week, we were dealing with something and teams were scrambling to pick up other teams like Bigfork going and playing Polson. Obviously, that’s not going to count in the Western A, but Polson shouldn’t be punished for not having that game which was (originally) against Stevensville.
“We’re more looking at the total number of losses and the equity among the other teams. So whether you have four wins or five wins, which it’s not Polson’s fault that they didn’t get to play, but that’s kind of how that conversation went.”
Harris added that he was the only athletic director to vote against allowing the no contest to count, saying he didn’t have enough time to look over the plan prior to the meeting to feel comfortable with it then but was pleased with how it will work out in the end.
Hamilton (8-0) and Dillon (6-1, 1 NC win) are locked in as the top two seeds from the Western A. But here are the remaining scenarios for the Western A per Harris:
- If Frenchtown (6-2) beats Libby (5-3), Frenchtown will be the No. 3 seed.
- If Frenchtown beats Libby and Whitefish (5-3) and Polson (4-3, 1 NC win) lose, Frenchtown will be the No. 3 seed and Columbia Falls (5-3, 1 NC win) the No. 4 seed.
- If Frenchtown wins and Whitefish and Polson win, Frenchtown will be the No. 3 seed and Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Polson will be in a tiebreaker.
- If Frenchtown and Whitefish win and Polson loses, Frenchtown will be the No. 3 seed and Whitefish will be the No. 4 seed because of head-to-head over Columbia Falls.
- If Libby wins and Whitefish and Polson lose, Libby will be the No. 3 seed and Frenchtown the No. 4 seed.
- If Libby and Whitefish win and Polson loses, Libby will be the No. 3 seed and Whitefish and Frenchtown will be in a tiebreaker.
- If Frenchtown loses to Libby and Whitefish and Polson win, we go to the tiebreaker for the third and fourth seeds with those five teams (Columbia Falls included).
- If Frenchtown loses to Libby and Columbia Falls wins but Whitefish and Polson lose, Frenchtown, Libby and Columbia Falls will go the tiebreaker. Since Frenchtown, Libby and Columbia Falls will have all played each other, we go to point differential for those three games.
Libby visits Frenchtown on Friday while Dillon takes on Whitefish. Polson visits Hamilton.
The 8-Man West is a little more cut-and-dry than the Western A but still dealing with some challenges. The 8-Man West also opted to use a tiebreaker system with the no contests to even records out as four teams will advance to the postseason.
“At the end of the season, we wanted to break all COVID no contest games via the tailored point system against the highest-seeded common opponent in the standings,” Cole said.
In Week 1, Plains and Drummond-Philipsburg had a no contest after a positive COVID-19 case with the Titans. So to determine who would get the “win” on their record from that game, the conference looked at the highest-seeded common opponent between the two schools and the outcome. That ended up being No. 3 Alberton-Superior, a team Drummond-Philipsburg beat 64-12 on Sept. 18 while Plains lost to the Mountain Cats 46-0.
So while the game is a no contest, the Titans were given the conference “win” under that rule from that game, which Cole said the conference wrote in their constitution pertaining to COVID-19 policies before the season began. Now both teams are back on even conference schedules.
Ultimately, that decision affects the playoff seeding. Thompson Falls is 8-0 while Drummond-Philipsburg is 7-0 in league play including the no contest win. The Titans take on Victor on Friday and a win would put both teams are 8-0 in the 8-Man West. Due to the conference’s tailored point system, the Titans would take the top seed with a win over Victor while the Blue Hawks would be the No. 2 seed heading into the postseason.
So the use of deciding who gets wins in no contest outcomes was effective but a measure held off on until absolutely necessary.
“We don’t put (the no contest win) in until the end of the season and then at the end of season we settle out no contests,” Cole explained. “The only reason we do it is they have to have that win to show that they have the same number of wins as Thompson Falls. And that’s not fair to punish Flint Creek because of a no contest and that’s what MHSA did not want, so we broke every no contest with a common opponent.”
Alberton-Superior's game versus Troy this week was canceled by the Trojans due to positive COVID-19 tests, the conference announced, so that game goes as a no contest as well. With it, the Mountain Cats, last year’s 8-Man runners-up, are locked in as the No. 3 seed in the postseason from the 8-Man West.
The winner of Friday’s game between Charlo (5-2 league, 5-2 overall) and St. Ignatius (5-2, 5-3) will determine which team grabs the fourth and final seed.