High School Football Needs a National Playoff
Football games are won and lost on the field. The same cannot be said for national championships in high school football.
St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California, was the consensus national champion for the 2022 high school football season. Most rankings ended with Bosco on top. They include MaxPreps, CalPreps, SBLive, BlueStar Media, High School Football America, USA Today and Stadium Talk. Only NationalHSFB had Miami Central at No. 1.
There's not much consensus in the polls after that. While many of the top 10 teams are the same, every order is different. This is because there are a lot of talented high school football teams across the United States.
Miami Central (14-0) and St. Thomas Aquinas (14-0) both went undefeated and won state titles in Florida. Duncanville (15-0) ran the table on the way to a state title in Texas. Could any of those teams beat St. John Bosco? What about St. Edward (15-1), the Division I state champ out of Lakewood, Ohio, or Bishop Gorman (14-1) in Nevada?
Since high school football doesn't have a national playoff, it doesn't have a national title game or official national championship. A "mythical" national championship has been awarded to high school football teams since 1910, when the National Sports News Service named Oak Park High School in Illinois the first national champ. In those 100-plus years, an unofficial system has been created to identify the country's top high school football teams.
The current high school football system is more advanced than ever and does a great job tracking high school football's best teams every season. Still, it can't determine who's No. 1 with absolute certainty. The only way to settle that debate is on the field by having teams suit up and compete.
Wouldn't it be nice if the country's top four high school football teams had a national postseason playoff? After the last state tournament games are played in December, bring the top four state champions from California, Texas, Florida and whatever other state has the best team that season. Let them go head-to-head in two semifinals and a championship game.
Play the games at three famous, outdoor football stadiums in three U.S. cities over two weekends for all the marbles. Stream the games live, and make the broadcasts available to anyone who wants to watch. Put "Friday Night Nights" on the national stage over the holidays in late December and early January. Let the national high school football playoff be the opening act for the college football playoff.
Football fans across America would love it. High school players would love it, parents would love it, schools would love it. Host cities, local businesses and economies, the media, and advertisers would love it. The experience and benefits that come from a national high school football playoff would be worth the cost of extending the high school football season a few weeks.
A National High School Football Playoff Would Be Good for the Game
Football remains the most popular sport in America, but it could use a little narrative shift. High school football is the purest form of the game. It's time to showcase high school football more and remove the "mythical" tag from its national championship like the NFL and NCAA.
The NFL is far from perfect, but at least they have a playoff system that determines its Super Bowl champion on the field. Seven wild-card teams have won the Vince Lombardi Trophy since the wild-card system was instituted in 1970. Without the wild card, the 1980 Oakland Raiders, 1997 Denver Broncos, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007 New York Giants, 2010 Green Bay Packers and 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers would not have been champions. Before wild cards, we never would have had the 1968 New York Jets.
College football is getting better at removing doubt and hypotheticals from the national championship equation. Look at Texas Christian University this season. TCU got an opportunity on college football's biggest stage and showed that Michigan wasn't so big or bad. Ohio State was a last-second field goal away from upsetting SEC powerhouse Georgia. When the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams in 2024, even more teams will have a shot at winning everything and finishing No. 1. The transfer portal and name, image and likeness are leveling the playing field.
On any given Sunday. On any given Saturday. On any given Friday. Any team can win. If players and coaches have talent. If those players and coaches are well-prepared. And if they execute and make the necessary in-game adjustments over four quarters. Anything. Is. Possible.
That's why they play the games.
There's no denying St. John Bosco is a great team. The 2022 Braves went 13-1 and had a roster filled with over 40 Division I prospects. The only flaw on their record was a 17-7 loss to Mater Dei in a Trinity League game on Oct. 7. St. John Bosco won the rematch with Mater Dei 24-22 in the CIF Southern Section Division I championship game at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 25.
Two weeks later, St. John Bosco made Serra (San Mateo) look like a JV team in a 45-0 shellacking to win the CIF Open Division state championship. Bosco was up 35-nothing at the half and could have dropped more on the overmatched Bay Area team.
That's the problem. St. John Bosco's final win of the year was anti-climactic. And the final win for a national champion in high school football should never be anti-climactic.
Is St. John Bosco really the top dog this season in high school football? Are they better than Miami Central, St. Thomas Aquinas, Duncanville and every other state champion? St. John Bosco could be. But we will never know for sure unless they play.
It's time for the national champion in high school football to be crowned on the field. It's time for a national high school football playoff. It's time to remove all doubt.
For the 2022 high school football season, Stadium Talk explored "High School Football in America" with The Stadium Talk Podcast. Check out The Stadium Talk Podcast, "Season One: High School Football in America" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Amazon Music.
THE STADIUM TALK PODCAST
SEASON 1: HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL IN AMERICA
Episode 1: Which State Plays the Best High School Football?
Episode 2: Best High School Football Movies of All Time
Episode 3: Evolution of High School Football Recruiting and the Best High School Football Recruits of All Time
Episode 4: St. Edward's Tom Lombardo, Buford's Bryant Appling, the Importance of Football in Ohio, and High School Football Players Getting Million-Dollar Offers
Episode 5: Bixby High School Football Head Coach Loren Montgomery, Quest for Another Oklahoma State Title, Bixby-Jenks Rivalry, Elite National Programs
Episode 6: St. John Bosco’s Jason Negro, Austin Westlake’s Tony Salazar Talk High School Football NIL, National Schedules, Chasing History and Coaching Mentors
Episode 7: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Roger Harriott, Cherry Creek’s Dave Logan on Faith and Football, Beating Adversity, Winning State Titles and Producing NFL Players
Episode 8: What's It's Like to Be a Girl Playing High School Football
Subscribe: Spotify l Apple Podcasts