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As of right now, organizations like Rivals com hand out “national championships” to high school football teams which are even more made-up than college football’s national championships.
With each state holding multiple state championships (and some not at all), quite a few teams end up undefeated, and how can anyone possibly say who the “national champion” is?
A national championship tournament may not be feasible, but how could a theoretical national championship work in a way that produces an indisputable national champion fairly and provides an exciting conclusion for the fans?
1. Invite at least one team from every state. If you want to make sure people across the country tune in and care, then guarantee at least one team from each state (and DC) a chance to make it to the national tournament.
2. Restrict participants to state champions. Some people say that a national tournament would devalue state championships, so make it a rule that a team must win its state championship for its classification in order to be eligible for the national tournament.
This would actually be interesting in states where high school football is a big deal, since often a state will have several teams finish undefeated and champions in different classifications, and it’s all up to speculation over which team is the best. A national tournament which potentially matched up teams from the same state who were both “state champions” could be very interesting.
A list of last year’s state champions is found here, so any team on this list would be eligible for selection: link
3. In order to include at least one team from every state, and multiple teams from states which have several classification winners that could contend for a national title, the optimal number seems to be 96 teams. 128 allows too many marginal teams in, and only letting in 64 excludes many undefeated teams with state titles.
4. Seed the best 16 teams nationally. With 96 teams, that creates 16 “pods” of 6 teams each, the top 2 in each pod having a bye. Rather than seeding further, just put the rest of teams into tiers. Tier 2 would be the next 16 teams, each having an opening round bye, and each matched up to the nearest seeded team.
The 64 teams without byes will be divided into tier 3 and tier 4, with tier 4 teams travelling to tier 3 teams in the opening round. Opening round opponents will be determined solely by keeping teams as close to home as possible.
Thus, a few teams from the Rocky Mountain area and New England might be bumped up to tier 3 artificially so that we won’t have to see 10-12 teams travelling thousands of miles just for the opening round, but in the long run, that doesn’t really matter.
Further on, the brackets are designed to keep teams as close to home as possible. Occasionally, this won’t be possible: There’s no seeded or tier 2 teams in New England, so those teams will have to travel far in later rounds, and there will always be a few unavoidable geographic anomalies, but if ESPN or whoever sponsors the tournament can pay the travel expenses for the teams (the tournament would likely generate much more profit than the cost of sending a few teams in the air).
5. Homefield advantage will go to whichever team is the higher seed. If unseeded teams from the same tier reach the round of 16 and happen to be matched up against each other (this won’t happen very often), then a coin-flip or something can be done. The final game can be played at a predetermined neutral site.
6. The opening round would begin in early January and the championship game would play in the end of February. While some may be concerned over the athletes playing too many games or being distracted from school, remember that all but 32 teams in the entire country will be eliminated before mid-January having only played 1 or 2 games. ESPN can televise the round of 16 on, and all earlier games can be at least on local TV and ESPN3.
7. I’ve included a possible bracket of what last year’s tournament may have looked like. I utilized Rivals100 rankings and maxpreps.com ratings to come up with the seeds, and luckily, there’s only a few cases of teams having to travel far in the early rounds.
Is this unrealistic? Maybe. It might take several years before all of the state champions started taking this seriously. But this event would be a TV goldmine and give football fans in all 50 states something interesting to watch, and give a legitimate and fair chance to win a national championship, rather than some media outlet just arbitrarily pick one.