John F. Russell: Steamboat learns that post-season berths best won on the field, not decided on paper

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— Lets face it: When it comes to deciding who makes the post-season, it’s always better if the spots are won on the field and not decided on paper.

Steamboat Spr­ings High School girls soccer coach Rob Bohlmann didn’t want to complain about last weekend’s seedings, but it was clear that he was troubled when he told me why Steamboat, 9-6, did not make the playoff cut despite being ranked 21st by Max Preps.

John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

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Three of the team’s six losses came to the state’s fourth-ranked team, Battle Mountain. But what bothered Bohlmann the most was that, at least on paper, the Steamboat girls were better than at least one of the teams in this year’s tournament bracket. That team was ranked lower in the most recent poll, finished sixth out of eight teams in its league standings and had a less than impressive 7-7-1 record.

So this week, the top 32 girls soccer teams, according to the CHSAA, opened their bids for a state title in the 4A state playoffs. Steamboat was not invited, despite a ranking that might suggest otherwise.

At first glance, the numbers seem to favor Steamboat, but officials at CHSAA said there is more to the process that has been approved by each of the member schools at the start of the season.

The process awards automatic berths to 24 of the 32 teams in the playoff bracket. Those berths, which are decided by the league, typically go to the top finishers regardless of where they end up in the Max Prep or coaches’ polls.

The Western Slope typically sends its top two teams,but it depends on how the southern division fares. Because of the remote locations of southern teams, they play in a different league during the season but factor into the playoff picture based on their performance at the end of the regular season.

However, there is an in for teams that finish outside of the automatic berths. The tournament seeding committee uses its discretion to award the final eight spots.

Bud Ozzello, assistant commissioner for CHSAA, explained that the committee uses overall records, head-to-head meetings, Max Preps and a coach’s poll to seed the teams. The coach’s poll is not made public, but a seeding committee representative said the Max Preps poll, which ranks teams on their results and strength of schedule, carried a lot of weight in the decisions. The representative said Steamboat was ranked 27th and Discovery was 25th in the information the committee used for the meeting.

But the information given to the seeding committee for the meeting still was in flux. By Monday morning, Steamboat, which had won four of its past five games, was ranked ahead of Discovery Canyon and Pueblo South in the Max Preps poll. Those teams made the playoffs, but Steamboat did not despite its ranking.

“We went with the most up-to-date information that we had,” Ozzello said in a joint telephone interview with fellow assistant commissioners, including Bert Borgmann. The two stressed the information the committee used was current, but they would not clearly respond to why that information had changed so dramatically by Monday morning.

Both commissioners stated that the information in the poll took in all of the teams’ most recent results, but things got a little fuzzy and hard to follow when they attempted to explain how Steamboat climbed in the brackets and Discovery Canyon and Pueblo South both fell after the regular season officially had ended.

“I understand that mistakes happen,” Bohlmann said. “But we need to address what happened so it doesn’t happen to another team next year.”

He also thinks that somebody needs to be accountable for what he thinks was a mistake in the final playoff brackets.

But Ozzello and CHSAA didn’t think a mistake had been made Friday when I interviewed them. Ozzello said it is normal for the the playoff seeding system to be evaluated at the end of the season, and that this year is not an exception. But in an email he sent to Luke DeWolfe, the Steamboat Springs High School athletics director that was copied to Bohlmann, Ozzello seemed to address some of Bohlmann’s concerns.

The email states that CHSSA already has made contact and had conversations with its data provider regarding how and when CHSAA receives documents that will be utilized by the seeding committee. It went on to say the soccer committee would revisit all of its playoff procedures and practices that are used during the meeting and that the rankings be run the Sunday morning of the scheduled seeding committee meeting to allow scores from the entire season to be figured into the rankings.

Regardless of the playoff picture, it’s hard to argue that Steamboat’s season was a good one. Sadly, if there are changes, they will come too late for this year’s team. I guess it’s true that if you want to play in the post-season, it’s best if you earn it on the field and not have it decided on paper in a committee meeting.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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