Home / World News / With waterfall format set to go away, how does parity get restored in top-heavy 5A soccer?

With waterfall format set to go away, how does parity get restored in top-heavy 5A soccer?

Pomona’s wild 56-49 victory over Eaglecrest in Saturday’s Class 5A championship closed another Colorado prep football season that exemplified how the free agent nature of the state has turned the sport’s classification into an oligarchy.

“With open enrollment, it’s going to stay that way for a long time,” said Pomona coach Jay Madden. “People are out there looking around before their freshman year, and they know what the top football schools are — and they end up going to those schools. It’s really hard to build a program from the ground up anymore.”

It’s a trend easy to identify but difficult to rectify. In the past four seasons, the state’s five preeminent heavyweights — Valor Christian, Pomona, Cherry Creek, Columbine and Grandview – have combined to earn 13 of the 16 possible 5A semifinal playoff spots.

The current “waterfall” playoff format, installed two years ago to even out disparity among the state’s 5A programs, instead magnified it with slews of blowouts in conference play. It also led to discontinued rivalries, skyrocketing team travel costs and a decline in attendance. Those are the main reasons that Class 5A will likely be moving away from the waterfall and back toward a more traditional conference alignment for the 2018-20 cycle when the CHSAA football committee convenes on Thursday, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

“Anybody who’s watched the last two years and can come up with the notion that the waterfall is good for high school football — I’m not sure how that explanation could happen,” said Cherry Creek football coach Dave Logan. “You’re playing teams you have no history with, no rivalry with — we’re trying to support high school football and for fans and student bodies to show up, and you’ve eliminated all the natural rivalries in the second half of the season.”

Logan’s Bruins went 10-0 and outscored their opponents 460-102 over the past two years in the Mount Elbert conference. That sort of domination was also common by Pomona, Valor Christian, Grandview and Regis Jesuit — all of whom went undefeated in conference play in that span and won most games by lopsided scores.

But if the mathematically perfect alignment created by the waterfall — — which split Class 5A into seven leagues of six teams based on each team’s two-year average in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) — isn’t the answer to restoring parity to big-school Colorado football, then what is?

Gathering with their team, Pomona High ...

Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post

Gathering with their team, Pomona High School players Mark Ruhland, right, and Cameron Gonzales (22) check out the championship trophy that they hope to win in the class 5A championship game against Valor Christian Dec. 1, 2015. The Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado High School Activities Association hosted a press conference at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the lead up to the 4A and 5A state championship football games.

Time to try 6A?

One idea that’s been widely discussed by 5A coaches and athletic administrators but has not yet been formally proposed within the CHSAA football committee is a 24-team playoff field, with the top eight seeds siphoned off into a 6A bracket.

Such a proposal is off the table for the 2018-20 cycle, partly due to missing the window of a CHSAA bylaw that says amendments to classifications must be considered “no later than six months prior to the classification going into effect.” But that doesn’t mean a 6A/Open classification wouldn’t be considered for 2020-22 and beyond, especially considering the success other states have had with open classifications.

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