Marist receiver Carnell Tate makes a reception, en route to scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of a second-round Class 8A playoff game against Huntley on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Chicago.
Marist receiver Carnell Tate makes a reception, en route to scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of a second-round Class 8A playoff game against Huntley on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Chicago. — Daryl Quitalig for Shaw Media

In an ordinary year, this weekend I'd be ankle deep in postseason scenarios and what if's.

We would be a day away from the unveiling of the 256-team playoff field. And while there's usually some clarity in the identities of the teams that are likely to be involved, nothing is sure until late afternoon on the Saturday of the final week of the regular season.

The chaos that usually ensues in the final 48 hours before the unveiling of the true draw is always unique and never goes how anyone, no matter how many spreadsheets they build, thinks it might.

The final draw can't be set until all of Saturday afternoon's games go final. Teams are now required to kickoff by 1 p.m. on Saturday to insure that those results can be counted.

Often the games have little impact on who makes the field and who does not, and usually it is just for the purposes of assigning playoff points and ultimately seeds.

But every once in awhile there's a heads-up game on Saturday between a pair of four-win teams with the winner being put in the field and the other's season coming to a close.

In one instance, the field couldn't be set entirely until that result came in as the two teams were from two different classifications. Word filtered out that no real projection of several classifications could be done until that result came in.

My cellphone started to buzz around 2:30 that day. The text was from a number I didn't know, and there was a score of the game I sought in progress. Then the play-by-play started rolling in, still from this number I did not know.

I never found out who sent those texts that day in the pre-Twitter universe, but I sure appreciated it.

And in my mind it was a perfect encapsulation of how crazy the final week of the regular season can be.

While every final weekend has its own special charms, here's a look at my most interesting final weekends:


This isn't recency bias. The run-up to the playoff draw in the 2019 season provided so many different offshoot possibilities that it was hard to get a handle on what things might look like from a day-to-day basis.

It started with a Chicago Public League strike that wasn't resolved until very late in the process. For a time, it appeared that all CPL teams wouldn't be playoff eligible and then a few others might be excluded because of a bylaw in regards to minimum number of games played, a bylaw that has since been eliminated. In the end, the strike cost five teams an opportunity to clinch playoff berths and strangely opened the door to the first-ever three-win qualifier as a conference champion.

Another rarely used provision opened the door for a pair of 4-5 teams to advance to the playoffs as conference champions (Joliet West and Urban-Prep Bronzeville). This has always been on the books but had been invoked just five times since the playoff fields was expanded to 256 teams in 2000.

And with all that taken into consideration, the door still remained upon for at-large teams at 4-5 to have a shot at getting into the playoffs. Ultimately, there were just three five-win teams that did not get into the playoffs, which was the second-lowest total in the 256-team era.

And just when you thought you had a hammerlock on how things might look, it went back to the Saturday games. Rivals Loyola (6-2) and Marist (4-4) locked horns on a Saturday afternoon. Odds favored Loyola, but Marist wasn't to be denied and forced its way into the field. This forced a spot to be created for Marist, bumped Glenbard North from Class 8A to 7A and eliminated Vernon Hills from the field entirely.

Marist certainly proved it belonged, advancing to the Class 8A semifinals, but the ripple effect of that one result in the last few minutes of the qualification process was quite noticeable.


When you start the process of trying to guesstimate where the final playoff point total will land you can usually safely estimate a number in the high 30s and ultimately be protected against being wrong.

But for a variety of factors, the number in 2011 just kept climbing. So much so, that I thought the math involved was off somehow.

The cutoff line for playoff points rested at 40, which was incredibly high, and remains the highest threshold ever required.

But even so, there were still too many teams at the 40-point line, and after the three tiebreakers used to break teams apart in this scenario, Princeville and Rockford Christian remained tied for the last spot.

Since then, additional tiebreakers have been put in place to decrease the possibility of a true deadlock substantially. But at the time, a coin flip was what decided Princeville had a postseason and Rockford Christian did not.


The biggest thing that always scares me when breaking down the final week of scores is what happens if a score is misreported or inputted incorrectly.

There was quite the logjam for the last space in the 256-team field and when I finally checked, rechecked and checked again before getting to sleep on the last Friday night, I thought I had locked down who would be included in the 256-team field and who would not as Saturday's games had virtually no impact on who got in or who did not.

But when I woke up in the morning I learned that one score had been misreported on Friday night and that led to the team in question earning an automatic berth and a new team went into the spot that no one wants to No. 257.

Explaining what happened to that team's coaching staff wasn't my most enjoyable experience.


The potential option for 4-5 at-large teams advancing to the playoffs existed right down to the last few hours in this unique season.

The primary reason it didn't happen was that the field already included two four-win teams as conference champions which kept the only two teams that finished with five wins and didn't make the playoffs on the outside looking in.

It remains the closest the process has come to producing a 4-5 at-large team.


This was a study in teams on the bubble line in classifications. It was also the year I was formerly introduced to the protocols of the playoffs.

There were still just 192 playoff qualifiers in six classes at this point (the eight-class format didn't arrive until 2001) and Coal City coach Ken Miller would contact me late in the evenings to have me check scores of schools on the Associated Press wire state summaries.

Many of the schools I knew next to nothing about and finally I asked why Miller wanted to know the scores of theses schools that on the surface had no relevance to his own school's fortunes.

He then gave me the first in a series of lessons of how the playoffs were constructed and then revealed to me that he was trying to find out whether or not his team might be able to sneak into the Class 2A field as the largest school, or end up in Class 3A.

So the Friday night bubble watch was born.

Miller ultimately got his wish, sneaking into the field as the largest Class 2A school. Five weeks later he had a Class 2A State Championship trophy too.