The next six weeks are like Christmas for fans of Texas high school football. Starting late Friday night when the brackets could go from ‘projected’ to official, coaches and fans could finally try to make sense of the lay of the land. 576 teams from all corners of the state will begin competing Thursday for the 12 University Interscholastic League (UIL) state championships. Private schools, with the exception of the two playing UIL started their tournaments last week. Unlike most places, each game site and officiating crew is predetermined by the coaches of the competing teams. Most often the games are played at a neutral site. The more popular sites may be used more than once on a weekend giving fans the added bonus of seeing multiple games during the weekend. For example, in Dallas this weekend, eight 5A games will be held at Cowboy Stadium.
UIL football Tournament basics:
Classifications: 1A through 5A are the five classifications based on school enrollment. Each classification is further divided into D-1 and D-2 also theoretically by enrollment. 1A schools may also chose to play 6-man football instead of 11, creating two additional 1A brackets. 12 champions will be determined. Six-man football division one and two will play their championships the weekend on Saturday, December 15th in Abilene. All ten of the remaining championships, 1A through 5A D-1 & D-2, will be played in Cowboy Stadium in Arlington; 3A, D-1 on December 14th, the other 9, to be played in three tripleheaders December 20-22.
Divisions: Like classifications, divisions are theoretically grouped by school enrollment, 5A D-1 for the largest schools all the way down to 6-man D-2. Determining who will qualify among the small schools, six-man through 2A is very straightforward. Districts or leagues are built geographically and by enrollment and the top two from each district is plugged into the bracket.
3 to 5A is where things get confusing. During the regular season there are no 5, 4 or 3A divisions. Teams are grouped into districts based on proximity to the other similar sized schools. After district play, the top four (3 in 3A) are inserted into a bracket based on the enrollment of each qualifier in their district. The district schools with the top two enrollments go D-1 and the schools with the lower go D-2 (in 3A it’s one D-1 team& two D-2 teams). Since some districts have much larger schools than others this arrangement creates a lot of issues.
District 10-5A is the most glaring example of this. 10-5A is home to four of the largest schools in the state; Plano East (6016 enrollment), Plano (5315), Allen (5833) and Plano West (4945). With both Allen and Plano making the playoffs, Plano West will play in the D-2 bracket despite having more students than all but two of the D-1 schools. During the final weeks, many teams, even clinched district champions, must scoreboard watch to find out if they will be going D-1 or D-2. It’s completely out of their hands, but may well be the difference between a championship and an early exit.
Districts: In most states known as leagues. 5A though 3A each have 32 districts across the state of Texas. 2 and 1A have 16.
Regions: The districts are grouped into 4 geographic regions, starting in the far west part of the state. Region I (districts 1-8) begins in Far West Texas (El Paso) and include the west and northwest part of the state to the west part of the DFW Metroplex, Region II (districts 9-16), include the rest of the Metroplex, parts of central Texas and East Texas to the Louisiana and Oklahoma border. Region III (districts 17-24) is Houston and part of Central Texas. Region IV (districts 25-32) is San Antonio and all of South Texas. These regions are not absolute and vary somewhat by classification. They also change every two years when the UIL realigns.
Realignment: In even number years, classifications, districts and regions are realigned based on updated enrollment figures. In the big-city suburbs, schools can quickly move up or down based on new development and school openings. In much of rural Texas, schools are generally shrinking as the population shifts to those suburbs.
Brackets: These look exactly like NCAA basketball brackets. The teams are plugged in according to their district and whether they are one or two seed in such an arrangement where the district 1 top seed will open against the district 2- # 2 and so on. The talent in certain districts is far tougher than in others so the road to a championship is very much up to a teams’ position on the bracket. The top two teams in the state may face off in the first round while another contender skates though the early rounds against easier opponents. Like the division separation, a teams’ draw in the bracket is uncontrollable and has a lot to do with ultimate success.
If you get the idea luck plays a big role in winning a championship, you’ve got my point. Officials’ calls, injuries, seeding and the bounce of the ball all need to go a teams’ way for them to survive though such a tough field. This isn’t to say the teams who make it to the title are unworthy. Winning six games in a row is never easy, but gets even tougher when each win means a more pressure packed game against a team who’ve also made it through the gauntlet.
Probably not my most interesting post, but I hope explained what’s coming up from now through December 22nd.