The Kirksville High School football team gets a special reward for finishing 0-9 this season.
The Tigers will play Class 4's No. 6-ranked and unbeaten Hannibal for the second time in about a 30-day span. Only this time, they get to do it on the road, in a meaningless playoff game.
The Pirates trounced Kirksville 76-0 (that's not a typo) in Kirksville on Sept. 18. Hannibal scored 41 points in the first quarter and rested most of its starters before the first-half horn sounded.
On Friday, at what will most likely be a packed Porter Stadium, hundreds of fans will rest assuredly witness another pointless Hannibal blowout of an obviously inferior team.
That's an understatement. And that's the problem.
Postseason play in college and professional sports maintains a unique appeal for several reasons, but a big one has to be competition. Whether it's March Madness or the MLB Playoffs, you can usually be quite certain you're watching some of the best players in their respective sport play the game.
That should be the case in all sports – across the board. But unfortunately, that's not the case for Missouri high school athletics.
In most high school sports, like baseball, basketball and volleyball, postseason play sees higher seeds with strong records take on lower seeds with weak records. Nine times out of 10, the better records advance, and the weaker ones go home. This system works with sports that involve minimal contact that can be played out over a two- or three-day stretch.
Football represents the exception.
From pee wee to the pros, football games are played once a week. The level of wear and tear put on the human body in a football game can be equated to a violent car crash. And it's unlikely your body will recover after crash 15 the way it did after crash one.
After a nine-game regular season and possibly six more in the postseason, doesn't it make sense to eliminate the need for pointless games and unnecessary injury?
On Friday, the Palmyra football Panthers will also begin district play, and host Montgomery County, another winless program.
What will victories for Hannibal and Palmyra prove this week? What do Kirksville and Montgomery County have to gain?
In fact, Hannibal and Palmyra are the losers in this situation. The games will get tougher after round one, but why risk injury against a pair of programs that are a combined 0-18?
If Hannibal's leading rusher, junior Shamar Griffith, tweaks an ankle against the Tigers, was it worth it? Do we need to see what happens if Palmyra senior quarterback Ben Cheffey jars his shoulder after being tackled?
The risk outweighs the reward, no matter how you play the cards.
I understand giving teams a fair shot at a state championship. And I'm sure some lower-seeded teams have knocked off favorites in the past. But are those low odds worth putting players at risk?
In Illinois, across eight classes of football, each high school state-tournament bracket is inhabited by 32 teams. A record of 5-4 is the lowest mark a team can post to even get into the playoff conversation. Teams are divided by a playoff points system, and weaker teams are effectively weeded out.
Not only does this shorten the season and limit the hard hits these players are taking to their bodies, but it eliminates the need to embarrass an 0-9 high school football team just for the sake of embarrassing an 0-9 high school football team.
And whether you agree with that or not, can you actually argue that what Hannibal is going to do to Kirksville on Friday is good for anyone other than Hannibal?
No. Because in the end, it isn't good for Hannibal, either.