Opening night for the 2018 high school football season is less than a week away. There's always excitement that comes with the start of a season for everyone involved: players, coaches, staff, media, cheerleaders, band, parents, student bodies, communities, alumni and fans. For the students involved, it's their turn to have center stage. It's the "final lap" for seniors and their families while it is the maiden voyage for the newcomers.

There are plenty of new things to mention at the start of the season. Four of our local football programs have new head coaches for 2018. Lakeview promoted assistant coach Bill Hickman to the head post while Mercer hired Keith DeGraaf. DeGraaf has been a longtime assistant at both Mercer and Grove City; he also had a long and successful stint as Mercer's head wrestling coach.

West Middlesex named longtime assistant Mark Means, a WMHS alumnus, to the head coaching position. Wilmington also hired one of its own as defensive coordinator Brandon Phillian takes over for the retired Terry Verrelli.

Three local teams will play in different classifications in this two-year cycle. Mercer and Reynolds both drop from 2A to 1A. Grove City, a 4A team that voluntarily played up in Class 5A, will compete in 3A.

Grove City is also the subject of something else new for 2018. In addition to the comprehensive broadcast schedules that have been featured on 790 WPIC and SportsRadio 96.7 for many years, the broadcast offerings have expanded this year.  This season, Z-104 (103.9) will carry all Grove City games this season.

As some of you may remember, 103.9 (WWIZ; I-104, WIZ Country 104, Country 104, Oldies 104 in previous incarnations) carried games for many years before sports fully migrated to 96.7. So, in some ways, it's a "Back to the Future" scenario. A tip of the cap to sports director/sales manager Bob Greenburg and several Grove City-area businesses for making this a reality.

The Z-104 games will feature Grove City High School graduate Rick Dayton on play-by-play and former Grove City head football coach Jeff Bell on color commentary. Their collective experiences will make for a great broadcast team.

> Not all of the new things are positives, however. The new regional alignments are a mess. All 12 local teams will have more non-league games than league games this year. The 1A and 2A teams in our area will have three (3) conference games. The 3A teams have a whopping four (4) league games.

There's no need for that to be the situation, especially in 1A and 2A. In District 10, there are 10 Class 1A teams and eight 2A teams. Two options would have been more logical:
1-Have one 10-team 1A conference, play nine league games and take the top four teams to the playoffs. Have one eight-team 2A conference, play seven league games and take top four teams to playoffs. -OR-

2-Combine the 1A and 2A leagues geographically. This would give us an eight-team league locally and a 10-team conference in the northern half of District 10. Now, there are sometimes some concerns about conferences that are multiple classes. For example, 2A Greenville's male enrollment is approximately twice that of 1A Farrell. On the other hand, those two teams are scheduled to play in Week Nine! The size disparity is notable but it's not as if West Middlesex has to play Erie, for example.

There are further issues beyond conference size and alignment, however. In Class 1A, eight of the 10 teams are awarded playoff spots. In 2A, all seven Pennsylvania schools get playoff berths (Conneaut, Ohio is also 2A). In 3A, eight of 11 teams are invited (four from each league; 3A playoffs start a week later).

I think pretty much everyone would agree that too many teams are making the football playoffs. Other sports (volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc.) have open tournaments, which is fine. Open tournament is not feasible in football. Looking to Ohio, approximately 30 percent of the teams make the football playoffs. So for 4 of 10 or 4 of 7 to make the playoffs is still a relatively high number.

Reducing a round of playoffs will enable every team to play a 10-game regular season. The young men playing have a limited number of opportunities to play over their three or four seasons. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, every school played 10 games. Other parts of the Commonwealth still have 10-game regular seasons but many of our local teams have been playing nine-game slates for 20-plus years now.

This year, our local teams have nine-game schedules AND no team plays a conference game in Week Nine, the last week before the playoffs. There's a very good chance that a lot of those Week Nine games will turn into glorified junior varsity games because coaches don't want frontline players getting hurt in a game with no postseason bearing before the playoffs start. So for a lot of starting players, they'll end up with 8 1/2 regular season games.

Avoiding this situation is easy. Lopping off a round of playoffs allows almost everyone (Class 5A on a different schedule that has to start playoffs in the 10th week) to play a 10-game regular season. Now, to borrow from our friends in Ohio, make all 10 games count toward the playoffs. Ohio uses a computer system while some Pennsylvania districts have a point system.

Below, I propose a point system (this is hardly an original table, for the record) that can be used to determine playoff qualifiers/seeding:

Winning Team
6A 150 125 100 75 50 25
5A 175 150 125 100 75 50
4A 200 175 150 125 100 75
3A 225 200 175 150 125 100
2A 250 225 200 175 150 125
1A 275 250 225 200 175 150

Win or lose, teams will receive 10 points for every victory their opponent has during the regular season. At the end of the season, take the total number of points and divide by the total number of games played.

This can be used with the current format with small regions or with larger regions. It could be set up that region champions get automatic berths and then the point system determines "wild cards" or something of that sort. Either way, a team's playoff hopes should not be based on three games. Make all 10 games count. It works well in Ohio and other states.

> Every year, I mention this, but it bears repeating. The final game of the season, Week 10, should be Rivalry Week. Sharon-Hickory should play the finale. Same with Greenville-Reynolds, Cathedral Prep-McDowell, Franklin-Oil City, et al. Even if the teams are different classifications, it still has meaning beyond bragging rights. What if the winner of Sharon-Hickory earned a trip to the playoffs? What if a team with a 3-6 record going into the game could knock its archrival out of the playoffs with a win in the finale?

Again, looking at Ohio, Canton McKinley and Massillon Washington play the finale every year. Massillon Jackson and Canton Hoover play the finale every year. Closer to home, Canfield & Poland are the annual Week 10 foe for each school. Girard and Liberty play the finale every year.

In local colleges, Grove City and Thiel play the finale, as do Westminster and Geneva. Would Ohio State-Michigan be as significant on October 13th? Penn State-Pitt, in the Olden Days, generally played in the last game of the regular season.

I would like for someone to explain why District 10 can not/will not go this route. Maybe I am missing something obvious?

> Once again this year, I will be posting weekly Mercer County football stats here. For a look back at last year, click here. If you would like to see the returning stat leaders coming into the 2018 season, click here.

In addition, the Mercer County football schedules are here and the District 10 standings are here. I will also have weekly previews on the web site.

> Keep the cards and letters coming to Follow me on Twitter @professorbriggs