Central Catholic receiver Pomer Davison (11) goes deep against Tualatin in last year's 6A football final. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Central Catholic receiver Pomer Davison (11) goes deep against Tualatin in last year's 6A football final. (Photo by Jon Olson)

As the calendar turns and high school football season appears on the horizon, coaches are digesting the tweak made to the 6A football playoff bracket this spring.

Last month, the OSAA executive board approved a recommendation from the football ad-hoc committee that trims the top 6A playoff bracket to 12 teams and keeps the secondary bracket – formerly known as the Columbia Cup – at 16 teams. The move should raise the level of play in both brackets and create a more meaningful secondary bracket, which was introduced in 2022.

“I think they tried to find a blend of what people were wanting,” North Medford coach Nathan Chin said.

“I think we're moving in the right direction,” Lakeridge coach Spencer Phillips said.

Sherwood coach Mark Gribble, whose team earned the No. 3 seed last season, likes the move.

“It's another opportunity for teams in the upper bracket to play some great competition, with a little reward system with the byes,” Gribble said. “For anybody that's super competitive, that's the way you want the playoff games to be.

“It's a great way to take that upper echelon and match them up against each other. It gives you something to shoot for. It gives you incentive to try to schedule your preseason competitively so you're battle-tested.”

The football ad-hoc committee surveyed schools involved in the playoffs the last two seasons. A sub-group of the committee reviewed feedback and suggestions from coaches and athletic directors and sent out another survey with three options: the status quo of 16/16, the revised 12/16 or a single 24-team bracket.

The survey asked responders to rank the options. The 12/16 plan had the fewest No. 1 choices but was far and away the top No. 2 choice. The 24-team bracket had the most No. 1 choices, but also the most No. 3 choices.

“It was a little bit mixed, but clear that people wanted some type of change,” OSAA executive director Peter Weber said.

The executive board settled on the 12/16 proposal. Of the 28 spots, 22 will be based on league finish and six at-large spots will be determined by rankings.

The 12-team 6A football open bracket will have six league champions and the next six highest-ranked teams, with the top four ranked teams earning first-round byes.

Any league champion ranked in the top 12 will play at home in the first round. Any league champion ranked outside the top 12 will move into the top 12 but is not guaranteed a home game.

“The way they structured the top 12 makes a lot of sense,” Chin said. “Puts some emphasis back on conference championships, which is good. That's a huge positive out of that. I think they came up with a decent option.”

Phillips said the league championships can be overemphasized, however, depending on the strength of the league.

“Just because you win the conference, I don't think that should garnish you a seed in the top eight,” Phillips said. “I think they need to place more emphasis on your overall body of work.”

Is 12 the right number for the open bracket?

“I don't know that there's the right number,” Gribble said. “You've got to draw the line somewhere. I see the reasoning why they picked 12. I think the reward system with the bye comes out smart. It makes sense for a smaller bracket.”

Phillips said he is “super old school” and prefers one big bracket, but the change is an improvement.

“I think it should be top eight, not top 12,” Phillips said. “I think you could get away with just doing a top eight. I'm not sure it makes sense to give people a bye. If I was a kid, I'd want to play as many games as possible.”

West Linn coach Jon Eagle is lukewarm on the bye.

“If you have a young team, you want to stay in that rhythm and keep playing,” Eagle said. “But if you're beat up, what a blessing that is. It all depends. I've never had a bye, so it's all new to me.”

The 16-team secondary bracket will be seeded by ranking. The bracket no longer will be called the Columbia Cup, but simply the 6A football bracket.

The secondary bracket will have a stronger field than the past two seasons considering teams seeded 13-16 will replace teams seeded 29-32. The change in the name could make the secondary bracket more enticing to teams, according to Phillips.

“If I'm in that 6A championship – not the open – and it's still really good football, then yeah, kids should be proud of that,” Phillips said. “Because right now in the state I think we're seeing a huge disparity in the top 10 teams and everyone else.”

If last season was played under the same system, Chin's North Medford team – seeded 13th – would have played in the Columbia Cup instead of the top bracket, where the Black Tornado lost to eventual champion Central Catholic 56-0 in the first round.

Despite the lopsided defeat, Chin said he would have been disappointed to land in the secondary bracket.

“You always want a chance to play for a true state championship,” Chin said. “That's what makes the Columbia Cup different because you lose that opportunity. … But it's in your control. You go win a conference championship, or win the games you need to win to get yourself ranked high enough.”

Chin, like Phillips, prefers one big bracket.

“Twenty-four teams seems like it's plenty to do playoffs,” Chin said. “That's similar to every other level that we have. It's about the same percentage of teams.”

Eagle said he can imagine a system of relegation, like in many professional soccer leagues, or teams declaring to play in the open division from the start of the season.

“I think that's where it's headed,” Eagle said. “In Southern California, they have that open division. If you want to be in the open division and compete at the highest level, go for it. That would be fun, but what if only seven teams want to do it?”