FARMINGTON — Some New Mexico high school football programs will have a harder time trying to secure one of the final playoff spots starting in 2018.
The New Mexico Activities Association voted Wednesday to reduce the number of playoff teams in classes 2A through 6A, along with eight-man, from 12 to 10 beginning next fall. Six-man competition will feature four playoff teams.
The NMAA initially proposed to make the playoff football brackets for those classes eight-team fields for eight-man and classes 2A through 6A, but it settled on 10 teams as a compromise.
This move could impact San Juan County's teams in particular because the five local teams that reached last year's playoffs were in the seven- to 12-seed range, meaning the bottom half of the bracket. It could also impact teams like Piedra Vista, which was on the outside looking in. The Panthers missed getting one of the final spots in last year's 6A playoff bracket.
"If you're typically one of those 11 or 12 seeds perennially, it's going to definitely make it more difficult for some of those (teams)," PV coach Jared Howell. "It probably just puts more pressure on your power rankings and your scheduling."
The NMAA already voted in June to eliminate Class 6A starting with the 2018-2019 school, with the exception of football. All other sports will feature classes 1A through 5A.
NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said travel expenses and other costs factored into the decision, as did keeping the format relatively consistent with the new state basketball tournament format.
"The schools needed to reduce travel, keep kids in school," Marquez said.
Starting in 2018-2019, the state basketball and baseball tournaments will feature 12-team fields instead of 16.
"We've been looking at classifications lineups for the past two years. There's been a classification alignment committee that has been looking at all of these issues," Marquez said.
Marquez said that, under the new format, the top six seeds will receive first-round byes while the remaining four will play first-round games.
Shiprock coach Eric Stovall sees good things potentially coming out of the decision.
"It makes you play harder come district play. You've got to earn that opportunity to earn that spot. Honestly, the playoffs shouldn't be for everybody. It needs to be for the top teams," Stovall said.
Stovall also said nondistrict victories will become even more important under the new format because they'll increase a team's chances of making the playoffs.
The new format was used as recently as 1999. District champions will automatically qualify, while the at-large spots will be filled by other teams.
"We will make it work," Marquez said.
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.