Questions fly through the air like footballs in a summer 7-on-7 league. Texts, emails and social media inquiries overtake me like the wafting aroma of French fries from a snack shack.

“You figured out the Crabtrees yet? How do they look?”

I recognize this question is completely random and out-of-context to anybody who doesn’t follow high school football. In fact, it probably wouldn’t make sense to a single man-on-the-street anywhere outside the great state of Maine, at any other time than the third or fourth week of October.

Crabtree points are a mythical formula used by the Maine Principals Association and its now-eight football leagues to select and seed teams for the playoffs.

Think BCS, only much less maligned but just as contingent upon details that are largely out of teams’ and coaches’ control.

And for that reason — a pretty good one, I think — I hate the system.

It’s in place because of two overriding factors: 1) crossover games between East and West in two of the four classes; and 2) schedules in every division that fall short of being a true round-robin.

Guess what? I don’t like that, either, primarily because it’s easily remedied.

To appreciate my lack of appreciation for the Crabtree Points, you must understand the system.

Easy. Simply take your team’s winning percentage, plus the aggregate winning percentage of its opponents, and multiply that sum by 100.

Sounds good on paper, but perhaps you’ve already figured out the wrinkle. The Crabtree system venerates strength of schedule, and that’s a factor that is completely beyond a team’s control.

Let’s look at Western Class D as an example. There are 10 teams in the division. In order to leave enough weeks at the end of the schedule to account for an eight-team playoff, the smallest schools of the Campbell Conference play an eight-game regular season.

That means there’s one opponent that each team doesn’t play. In Winthrop/Monmouth’s case, it was Traip. Lisbon skipped Telstar. Oak Hill avoided Sacopee Valley.

Well, “avoided” is the wrong word, because the Hawks still are seeking their first win in five years of varsity football. Barring any upsets this weekend, Oak Hill, quite by accident, will have played the toughest schedule in the conference. Its strength-of-opponent half of the Crabtree formula will have a higher factor than anyone else’s.

The equation gets even weirder in Class B, where, because of Oceanside’s West-or-else request in the realignment discussions, the East has only nine teams and the West 11. Because both leagues want a playoff with more than two rounds, they’re limited to an eight-game season.

That means that the Pine Tree Conference schools not only missed out on one of their traditional rivals, but inexplicably they crossed over against a random (no, really, I heard it was pulled from a hat) Campbell Conference foe to arrive at an eight-game schedule.

Mt. Blue, for instance, missed out on Cony (talk about fans getting robbed of an Arena Football-like thriller) and had to travel to York on a Saturday afternoon. Messalonskee skipped over Gardiner, something it could have chalked up as a ‘W’ this season, and faced a brutal, inter-sectional clash with Marshwood, instead.

It leaves us all needing a calculator or a spreadsheet as much as a color-coded jacket or pompoms when cheering on our favorite team. And while the kids always come before the spectators, surely a high school football fan should be able to look at his or her team’s record and figure out roughly where it fits in the playoff picture.

Or perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe this a sign that we’re obsessed with that picture. The reason we’re in this situation is that we’ve decided it is some sort of divine right for more than four teams to earn a postseason berth.

This attitude of inclusion has created a real mess in Western Class C and on both sides of Class A, where the top two teams in each division face the thumb-twiddling prospect of a bye week before the playoffs. Because Lord knows four teams wouldn’t have been enough, but eight were too many.

Class C West easily could have solved the mess by playing a round-robin schedule of nine games each, then having four teams duke it out for the championship.

But two teams would get robbed of a chance to make the playoffs, cry the equality police. Phooey. They would get their opportunity to prove it on the field in September and October. And frankly, if they fail that test, they’re being spared the indignity of a 42-0 loss in the quarterfinals.

Just know that when I become king of the world, the days of crossover games and artificial mathematical formulas are over. The number of teams in your region will determine how long your exhibition and regular seasons are and how many schools will make your playoff. Eleven teams in your league, Class B West? Better get into the top two if you want to play for a trophy.

That answer your question? Yes, I’ve figured out the Crabtrees. They look awful.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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