Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Sunflower League's Lack of National Exposure

The annual Hutchinson vs. Rockhurst game is a slap
in the face to Sunflower League programs.
In 2000 Olathe North finished the season ranked as the 20th best team in the nation by PrepNation.

The publication PrepNation is widely recognized as the most thorough source for national high school football rankings.

In 2001 the Eagles claimed the 25th spot in the final national rankings.  Again, in 2002, they were ranked nationally at season's end, coming in at 24th overall.

In those three seasons, Olathe North played the Missouri high schools Lee's Summit North ('00 and '01) and Jefferson City ('02) and dominated, showing that they could legitimately compete on both sides of the state line.  

Two years later, in 2004, the Sunflower League relinquished out-of-league scheduling when Olathe Northwest joined the varsity ranks.

In the nine years since, there has only been one Sunflower League team ranked as one of the top 25 teams in the nation by PrepNation at any point during any season.  That team was the freakishly talented 2004 Olathe North unit led by Dustin Moomau, Justin Gore and Travis Greer which finished as the 5A Runner-Up going 12-1--and they only made the national top 25 for three weeks in the playoffs.

This is despite the fact that there have been four SL teams in that time span who made it to at least 12-0, and two who have claimed 6A state championships.  

Mild coincidence or direct correlation, you ask?  I feel strongly about the latter.

Let's get some things straight.  The Sunflower League is widely recognized as the SEC of Kansas high school football.

The large suburban high schools that make up the league have the populations and wealth to develop dominant teams, and they do year after year.  Since 1990, the league has claimed 14 6A state titles, and had a team appear in all 22 of the state title games.

But I would argue that the league's reputation--on a regional and national scale--is being held back because teams are not playing competition outside of the area.

Think about it.  This season alone the league (assuming the SL produces a state title rep) will combine to face a measly five (5) non-Sunflower League teams.  Three of whom are from Johnson County (where nine of the SL teams are located), one from just north in Wyandotte County, and likely one from central Kansas.

And it has been this way ever since 2004.

The Sunflower League's reputation is being handcuffed by its own scheduling system.  Sure, there are cons to scheduling one non-league game every season.  There are travel costs involved, scheduling hassles and the general unfamiliarity with playing in a different county, state, region etc.

Teams would also lose out on one game against the already massive 12-team Sunflower League.  And these are all things to consider.  But I think in this case the reward of scheduling out-of-league games would outweigh the risks.

How much would you like to see SM East face off against Rockhurst--the school that plucks athletes from SM East's boundaries like apples in an orchard (or you could point to Nathan Scheelhaase, who literally lived across the street from SM West).  Or what about Olathe South going toe-to-toe with Blue Springs? 

And don't forget, there are several large metropolitan areas within a four-hour drive that could be traveled to, and back, in the case of a Saturday afternoon game.  Lawrence Free State against Millard North (NE), SM West playing Columbia-Rock Bridge (MO), or Lawrence against Jefferson City (MO), anybody?

The fact remains that until the Sunflower League busts out from the scheduling restrictions, and actually requires one non-league game to be scheduled by each team every season, the league is going to continue to be an afterthought in national coverage.

Is Kansas high school football on par with that of Texas, Florida, California or Ohio?  Not no, but hell no.  Kansas prep football would even struggle against similarly sized schools in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

But to tell me Kansas can't compete with Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado teams is absurd.  I've witnessed high school games in all of those states and none of them are any better than what we see in Kansas, and more specifically the Sunflower League.

And yet, the national media polls consistently rank teams from those states higher than those from Kansas.  It's not that those states produce better talent, or have more football-centric cultures.  It's that the state of Kansas (and specifically its powerhouse league, the Sunflower League) are not being promoted outside of the state confines.

Every September (and sometimes early August) the entire Sunflower League gets a slap in the face when Hutchinson takes on Rockhurst.  To me it's always seemed like Rockhurst's way of saying they're better than every team in the SL and would rather schedule a true "powerhouse."

But in all likelihood, Rockhurst is being hamstringed by the fact that they can't schedule SL teams (remember, Rockhurst played a home and home series with Olathe North in the late 1990s) and the next best option is shipping the game three and half hours west to Hutchinson, every other season.

I guess what it comes down to is what the Sunflower League wants to make of its massive, 12-team league.  They can let it hold them back the way it does now, forcing teams to play the same rigor mortis schedules every year--or they can use the 12 teams to their advantage, spreading them out across the region every September to represent the league.

There would undoubtedly be losses and blowouts, but in my opinion the experience and exposure for programs and the league would triumph any game results.

4 comments:

MahValley said...

Eli, I have to commend you for this post about sl and ks hs football in general. You have done some good research and get it right, for the most part, IMO.

As an outsider and yes I do still consider myself an outsider, even though I lived in the K.C. metro area for nearly 1/2 my life, KS for the most part and to some extent the MO are not what most people nationally would consider good high school football states. It is not because there is no talent here in the area(K.C. metro) there is just a severe lack of talent(Compare some of the HS football played around the country aired on fxspt). KS and MO are not producing college talent when compared with other states of similar size. Take for instance the sl and even kvl, when you compare these leagues with similar leagues in arkansas and indiana you will notice a huge gap and it is even worse when you throw in Utah(that's right UTAH).

Then you throw in the mix scheduling(You are 1000% correct about this) and you see that both sides of the state line HSAA's are run by what can only be discribed as idiots(KS has a 9 game schedule with a sudo 10th depending on record, WTH is that). There could be some very good match-ups within a 1 hour drive in any direction and if you add another hour to that drive just think about how much more of an experience the players and for that matter entire programs would get out of this type of scheduling.
I would like to see the sl teams head west and south to play some of those 6a teams during the regular season instead of ONLY seeing them in the play-offs IF you make it that far. There really is NO excuse for not doing this. I know this type of scheduling will not happen in my kids HS career but I am hoping it happens within the next decade.

I look forward to others thoughts on this. We might just be able to start a movement towards a BETTER direction.

Who's Your Daddy said...

Eli, The Sunflower league has always been a good ol boys network. The recent influx of new coaches such as Sherman and Gurley are directly responsible for the new found competitive nature of this conference. The veteran coaches that have been in this conference have been satisfied with playing mediocre competition. Every year at the preseason parents meeting Jeff Meyers brags about being an 8 game winner for ten years in a row. BFD!!! The state of competition in this league over the last ten years has been garbage when you get past the top three teams. You have the dinosaurs like Meyers, Weir,and Callahan. And then you have their second tier guys that came from their programs. The conference has been boring and predictable. There needs to be more outside the box thinking by the coaches and more importantly the athletic directors and administrators. I would love to thank the AD's who brought in guys like Gourley and Sherman. These guy's came from outside the GOB's network and your starting to see the positive results from a competitive standpoint. Football has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Our conference has been stuck in a time warp. The athletes in this conference are as good as players in the so called power states. Unfortunately the players don't structure the playbook and defensive alignments. I'll give you one example, but could give you a dozen. Olathe East had Willingham,Groves,Fulsom,Williams,and Fields on the same roster. You could start an olympic track team with those guys and they were all great football players. The problem lays in their utilization. Coaches have to find a way to get the most out of their roster of talent. When quality athletes are sitting on the sidelines with their helmet on their hip who's fault is that? I know that some changes are going to take place after this season. Hopefully the new coaches that come in are fresh new minds that don't come from the same old way of thinking. If the influx of new coaches are more like Gurley and Sherman and less like Billy Bobs offensive line coach from the school down the street. Thats when you will see an upgrade in schedules,talent,respect, and most importantly scholarships.

Kevin Booker said...

Eli,

I could not agree more with your assessment of the SUN and how it has done its scheduling since the 04 season. While I was in the office and reading the piece.

As an SME alumna, I was going over the geographical boundaries the Lancers have made in their current trek of 55 seasons and found some rather great info out of our Non-con (Sunflower) playing day history. At this present time in the season I took these 5 great factors in to consideration for future scheduling of opponents:

Listed/Reason(s)
1) Bishop Miege Stags
- DYK, that Miege and SME both opened their doors in the Fall of 1958? Many do not, but this would be a great match of the student-athletes to compete against each other. As of this 2012 season, these two have never faced each other in 5 or 6A competition on the gridiron. The only time these schools do meet is when it is time to go Country Clubbing in our many sister sports ie Tennis, Gold, Swim & Dive etc... This matchup/or possible rivalry could be the "Mission Road battle of the Gridiron..." of some sort.

2) the rock:
-Historically these two schools date back to everything competitively from Swim & Dive, to XC, SMN Relays and multiple other events. Most notably M Basketball during the Winter seasons. However, these two schools have gone at it on the Gridiron from the late 60s to the early 80s before ending the series back in 82. A year after I was born this great match up concluded. Although rock has come out on top and owns the series record, it would be easy to schedule one of these games at least once home at their place and in return the hawklets come to SMN whichever year agreed to later. Win/Win for both schools, Sports reporters in the area etc.

3) Pembroke Hill Raiders
- They are a stone's throw away from Mission Road, and we have never played a Varsity game against ol PemDay. It would be a great match as would the previous two opponents mentioned.

4) North Kansas City Hornets
- Why such an odd route to North KC? SME & NKC matched up numerous times in the 60s and early 70s before ending their playing days. Maybe the influence of travel, or perhaps the SUN was growing at the time back in those days, not sure.

Finally,
5) Platte County Pirates
- Thank the County SD and (Salina South) for giving SME a great legendary Coach, and one that built ore rebuilt the program it was in and turned it in to a power-house on the MO side. It would be great to make the trek to their place as visitors and take on Sherman's stomping grounds. ALthough his last class of SR's and current students would have all walked at graduations by now, it would be something fun to see as a match up.

I apologize for the length, but look forward to hearing other SUN football fans observations of teams that they would like on their schedules!

Cheers!

TheImpaler said...

Interesting takes. Do we really have less talented kids or is it just bad coaching? The problem of course is the debate is moot because of the awful scheduling practices by the SFL, there is just no opportunity to find out. We talked about how odd it was that SMW had to open @ LAW two years in a row, now I notice LAW has SIX home games this year? How the hell does that happen? Maybe they just need to put a group of us fans in charge of making a decent schedule with an open week for non-con. I think you have to start by splitting the league into two 6 team divisions which would obviously have to be Olathe/Lawrence division and SM/Leav division so you could still play everyone in your school district. Then you account for the district games you have to play at the end and leave everyone one week to sched a non-con game.