The Section 6 boys and girls basketball playoffs will be ending today and Tuesday and by this point the cream has risen to the top. But when the playoffs started, there were plenty of contrasts.
Since Section 6 adopted open playoffs about 10 years ago, everyone is allowed to play. When the boys and girls playoff basketball action began, there were two undefeated teams, nine with one loss and six with two defeats. But there were also four teams with stellar records of 0-18, 1-17, 1-16 and 2-16.
There could have also have been a girls basketball team with a 1-17 record and a boys squad at 3-15. But those teams were from Falconer, a school that deserves a tip of the hat for requiring their teams to earn a berth in the playoffs.
About six years ago Falconer adopted a policy that its basketball, football, baseball softball, volleyball and soccer teams must win 33 percent of their league games to participate in the postseason.
''We were getting into playoff games and we were traveling to Wilson or we were traveling to Roy-Hart and our records weren't very good in some sports,'' said Falconer athletic director Dave Nelson. ''It just didn't make sense to the higher-ups that we were, let's just say, 1-15 in a sport and we were traveling 2 to 2 hours to go play a game,''
And requiring a team to win a third of its league games is rather generous.
''I believe when I played basketball in the mid-80s the sectional rule was 50 percent,'' Nelson recalled.
Then the open playoffs rule was adopted and everyone got to play at least one postseason game, but often that game was a blowout.
''I know the argument was a lot of times was a 14 (seed) might play a 17 or something like that, but it seemed more often than not it was like a 15 playing a two,'' Nelson said.
Falconer superintendent Steve Penhollow was the athletic director in the early years of the 33 percent policy.
''When we instituted this policy it was around the time with instituted reductions in the number of competitions that we played,'' he said. ''What was interesting was within a year the state made similar reductions and have kept those reduction levels.''
He added, ''We wanted to try to control costs and controlling costs across the board and that way no one program would face the most severe reductions. That was the initial attempt.''
Nelson recalled a lot of schools had been discussing the adoption of a similar policy requiring a percentage of wins for its teams to make the playoffs.
''We were the only ones that stuck to our guns and we did it,'' he said.
Some other Section 6 schools opt out of the postseason occasionally, but none have a established a required wins policy.
''Our plan was to be fair and we make every attempt to be fair and for the most part our community supports the fact that we have tried to be consistent with this,'' Penhollow said. ''It's not a rigid policy, but I think it's a fair policy.''
For instance, in a past Falconer boys basketball season the team finished a win away from reaching the 33 percent level. However, it was later learned that Falconer's final loss actually should have been a victory, but there had been an error in the scorebook. So after a meeting it was decided to count the game as a win and the team participated in the playoffs.
''The one sport that has been the hardest in figuring out the 33 percent is soccer because how do you count a tie?,'' Nelson said. ''There was a year when we did consider as a tie as a win.''
When asked if he hears a lot of complaints about the policy, Nelson said, ''I never heard from the athletes. I only heard it from a few parents. Usually the people I would hear from have a kid who was a senior and they wanted the opportunity for them to have one last game. Overall, I would say our parents have been pretty good with it.''
Penhollow echoes that with, ''After going through six or seven years of the policy in place, our families know, our kids know. Our policy has worked well and our kids and our parents understand it.''
But not everyone understands it.
''I know there are people in the section who are not pleased with Falconer,'' Nelson said.
But he noted that now there is plenty of testing of students and reviews of teachers so that they meet certain standards and he believes it should be the same for athletics.
''I don't think there is anything wrong with setting an expectation and you have to reach that,'' he said. ''What's wrong with having certain standards to be in the playoffs?''
There's nothing wrong with it at all.
To paraphrase Smith Barney, ''Falconer makes the playoffs the old-fashioned way. It earns it.''