B.J. Payne's inaugural season with the Hilton Head Island High School football team wouldn't have ended with a playoff bid this year if the S.C. High School League had its way.
That postseason appearance -- which featured a Seahawks team with a 5-5 record and a 2-3 region mark -- may no longer happen come the 2014-15 academic year, as the SCHSL has proposed a reclassification of the state's football teams in an attempt to fix its flawed playoff format.
"Somebody is going to end up losing out," Payne said. "All you can do is go out and play."
The mock realignment -- which was emailed by commissioner Jerome Singleton to school superintendents, principals and athletics directors earlier this week -- features a plan to eliminate the state's multiple divisions in Class 1-A, 2-A and 4-A and instead shift the 200 schools into five 40-team divisions.
Never miss a local story.
The move would mark the end of a system that awards seven state championships, features playoff byes in Class 2-A and allows teams to reach the playoffs with losing region records, like the Seahawks did this season.
"I'm all in favor of that," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. "The season is too long for certain teams and it is watered down. The thing I don't like the most is the fact that we have four classifications right now and we don't have a single playoff format alike."
That will change if this proposal is approved, which may come at the league's executive committee meeting on Jan. 22. The four highest divisions would feature eight five-time regions with the top two schools qualifying for a 16-team playoff. Division 1, meanwhile, would have six regions ranging from six to eight teams.
The plan keeps teams with losing region records out of the postseason, but it doesn't account for clubs that struggle in non-region play, Payne said. The move may eliminate the need for the current points system, in effect making the first seven games of the season pointless.
"The fact that you could end the year 3-8, be the region runner-up and still make the playoffs kind of blows my mind," he said. "Those first seven games don't matter. Only your region games matter."
That isn't the only concern from local coaches, either. The mock reclassification shows Bluffton moving to Division 5, the league reserved for the state's largest schools, therefore meaning the Bobcats may face teams in the postseason with enrollments exceeding 3,000 students. Bluffton's student body is just less than 1,600, Cribb said.
"We feel like our program is to the level where we could compete with them, but I'd rather match apples to apples and oranges to oranges," he said. "I'd rather be with similar-sized schools. That's not similar sized."
Bluffton would be the only area team joining Division 5, as Beaufort High may slide down into the proposed Region 8 of Division 4 alongside Hilton Head High, Berkeley, Cane Bay and James Island. The Bobcats, meanwhile, would join Ashley Ridge, Colleton County, Summerville and West Ashley in Division 5's Region 8.
"By the looks of it, I assume we would probably be the smallest school in our region by far," Payne said. "We don't have near the number of kids Beaufort has."
These classifications are subject to change, however. The proposed plan was used featuring the 45-day average daily membership, but the set format will come from the 135-day report that is filed with the education department.
"I don't know if I have a feeling one way or the other on Division 5 and Division 4," Eagles coach Mark Clifford said. "I'm not really a political coach or whatever. I just try to take care of business at home and play it one game at a time."
Cribb feels his school should compete in the same division with the Seahawks and Eagles. But such a move creates just as much imbalance against schools like Hilton Head High, Payne said, who suggested the state's largest schools form a sixth division to create a more even playing field.
"Then you've got a situation where maybe Bluffton is 5, but the teams that have 3,000 kids are 6," he said. " ... It's a true separation. That way Bluffton doesn't feel slighted by going to 5, and then if Bluffton were to come back into 4 we won't feel slighted because we have (fewer) kids than Bluffton."
Battery Creek would be the area's only Division 3 school, competing in Region 8 alongside Georgetown, Hanahan, Stall and Timberland. Ridgeland-Hardeeville and Whale Branch would be in Division 2's Regions 5 and 8, respectively.
The moves ensure all of the state's teams shift to 11-game regular seasons, Singleton wrote, while also allowing for more games to be scheduled for financial benefits rather than for playoff implications.
"I do like simplifying and consolidating," Cribb said. "I do like the fact that we won't have as many champions. ... And I also think five weeks is way too long for the playoffs."
"I think this is definitely going to pass," he added.
A look at what other area head football coaches have to say about the S.C. High School League's mock five-division reclassification for football:
Battery Creek's Jim Shuman
Ridgeland-Hardeeville's Blake Raley
Whale Branch's Jerry Hatcher