Written by Corbett Smith
Smith: Odd circumstances mean four teams already have clinched playoff spots
While other teams are about to embark on an 11-week path to the playoffs starting Thursday, schools in District 11-3A — through a series of odd circumstances — can print their playoff T-shirts, hang up banners and paint the water tower.
Before taking a single snap for the 2013 football season, four Dallas-area high schools — Ferris, Madison, Roosevelt and Wilmer-Hutchins — have already secured a playoff berth.
It’s a concept that’s antithetical to what football coaches preach: That making playoffs is a goal achievable through hard work, sacrifice and a struggle for a common goal.
And for those in the district, it’s still hard to get used to.
“If we make the playoffs…” new Roosevelt coach Tommy Bonds started, before catching himself. “I mean, when we get to the playoffs…”
Four in, one out
Two elements combined for the inclusiveness. In February, the UIL’s Legislative Council voted to include another playoff team in team sports in Classes 3A and 2A for the 2013-14 season.
Bonds, Ferris coach Aaron Emeyabbi and Wilmer-Hutchins coach Elzie Barnett all were in favor of the change.
Over the last three decades — and over the din of old-school purists — the University Interscholastic League has steadily lowered the bar for playoff qualification. It started by taking two teams from each district in 1982, later expanding in 1990 to a split-division concept (and three district qualifiers) in Class 5A football.
This season, with four qualifiers from the state’s 32 districts, 70.3 percent (128 of 182) of the Class 3A schools will make the playoffs, the highest percentage of any classification.
Normally the UIL would wait to make such a drastic alteration — like adding another playoff team — until the next realignment. The league is already set to split Class 3A into two separate football divisions based on enrollment for the 2014-16 realignment, a process that already happens in the lower classifications.
“I’m not sure why they made that change at this point,” Argyle coach Todd Rodgers said. “Maybe it’s to get everyone used to having four.”
Regardless, what pushed all of District 11-3A football programs into the playoffs was Prime Prep.
Deion Sanders’ charter school was originally drawn up in 11-3A during the 2012-14 alignment, along with Irving North Hills. North Hills — still in the district — does not play football.
Prime Prep could not field a varsity football team at the start of last season, and later withdrew from the UIL entirely after four boys basketball players were ruled ineligible by the state’s executive committee.
Emeyabbi, one of Sanders’ biggest critics during the controversy, said that even though Prime Prep’s withdrawal cost his team a game — Ferris has been unable to fill the late-season vacancy — he said: “I’m so glad we don’t have to deal with it, not to be distracted by the circus he created. All that time and energy can be focused on our kids and what we need to accomplish.”
Barnett, Bonds and Emeyabbi said they hadn’t talked to their teams about the playoff scenario, instead retooling expectations with another goal in mind.
“I’m not going to promote that we’ve done anything,” Barnett said. “We desperately are trying to win this district championship. That’s it.”
All four teams have legitimate shots at the district title.
Madison has been one of Dallas ISD’s most successful programs over the last decade.
Wilmer-Hutchins will feature two FBS-caliber defensive backs, safety Mikal Best and corner De’Monte Ruth.
Bonds, in his first season after serving as Kimball’s defensive coordinator, will have a small but talented roster at Roosevelt. Bonds said of the 25 varsity players, six could be FBS material. Slot receiver and cornerback Tarrin Mitchell is already committed to Houston.
“This is a very, very talented group,” Bonds said. “We had a group at Kimball one year, with [Cowboys running back] Phillip Tanner and that bunch , that was a very talented group. But these kids, they can match that.”
And with playmakers Jay Foster, Javaughn Thurmon and Derrick Walker returning, Ferris will make its third straight playoff appearance. That is, if it wins a game. Emeyabbi said he wouldn’t slide into the playoffs as a 0-10 team.
“I am not going to go walking in there like that,” Emeyabbi said. “No way. We’ll forfeit. If there’s one thing we aren’t going to do, that’s go through the motions. It’s my job to motivate them. And I will.”
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN.
UIL playoffs through the years:
1948 — UIL creates city conference, two 11-man champions
1951 — City conference dropped, Classes 3A and 4A added
1972 — Six-man and eight-man conferences add state title games
1982 — District runners-up make the playoffs
1990 — Split-division format in Class 5A, three teams make the playoffs
1996 — Split-division format in Class 4A, three teams in
1998 — Split-division format in Classes 3A and 2A, three teams in
2006 — Class A changes to split-division format and three playoff teams
2006 — Fourth playoff team added to 5A
2008 — Fourth playoff team added to 4A
2010 — Classes 2A and A split into separate divisions prior to the start of season, three teams from each district
2013 — Fourth playoff team added in 3A and 2A
Party gets bigger
The percentage of schools statewide from each classification that qualify for the UIL football playoffs:
Class 5A: 52.5 (128 of 244)
Class 4A: 51.8 (128 of 247)
Class 3A: 70.3 (128 of 182)
Class 2A: 57.7 (128 of 222)
Class A: 57.5 (96 of 167)