Before the start of each season it's not uncommon for many teams to lay out a list of goals for themselves. Some goals could be to perform better on defense and special teams or to limit turnovers. The most common, though, is to simply make the playoffs.
And while the PIAA is at the start of its current cycle-meaning no changes will be made until the end of the two-year cycle in 2014 - there is always the chance changes could lie ahead for the playoff bracket, making the road to the postseason a little bit tougher.
Those changes could possibly include changing the number of schools in District 4 that make the playoffs for each qualification, with A and AAA being cut from four teams to just two and having AA cut from eight to only four should the PIAA ever trim its playoff schedule to keep it from running so deep into December.
"Obviously that would be very disappointing, and the reason I say that is you put so much effort into a season and you are talking about kids that start working out in January and train all year long for football," said South Williamsport head coach Chris Eiswerth. "You end up having a slim chance of making the playoffs, and if that is the case, you would have to be almost perfect."
Along with being almost perfect, teams like Loyalsock (5-5), Mount Carmel (6-4) and Montoursville (7-3) this season wouldn't even make the playoffs, as only the top four seeds in AA would be taken and teams like Bloomsburg (8-2) wouldn't make the cut in A. That's how it was until the PIAA altered its playoff format in 2006, which allowed District 4 to double its field without sacrificing any of the regular season.
"I think the current format brings about a large amount of competition in local schools," said Loyalsock head coach Justin Van Fleet. "As we have noticed through the years, a number of the previous champions have been below the sixth seed."
And if the current format were to change, it would bring about the very real possibility that teams from weaker conferences could rack up easy wins, denying teams from the Heartland Athletic Conference playoff spots.
The HAC, which features some of the top teams in the region, could be put in a position similar to the SEC in college football, where teams beat up on one another and miss out on big bowl games-or in this case, postseason games altogether.
"I'd argue that with the HAC, no matter what teams come out you will have a few losses," Van Fleet said. "It's one of the hardest conferences in the state and when you limit the number of teams only a few teams in the HAC would make it."
But luckily for many area teams, no changes seem imminent, though they are possible. Changes were made most recently in 2006, expanding the playoffs to the current state. That could always change, however, with several teams on the bubble as far as classifications go, making changes to the playoff bracket a very real possibility.
"We don't have a proposal on the table to change what we have been doing," said Bob Lombardi, Executive Director of the PIAA. "I think we have our meeting on Dec. 6 and we bring in someone from every district and we talk about what was good and what was not so hot. We do that for every district across the board. But we won't know any changes until then."
And while there may be nothing on the table as far as cutting the playoff bracket, there has been talk about creating two more classifications for several years now. In this case, fewer teams would make playoffs in each classification, but with more classifications the same number of teams would make playoffs overall.
Another option could be simply moving the start of the season up closer to the summer. In this case, playoffs don't need to be cut and the season doesn't interfere with anything locally other than the Little League World Series, which wraps up the weekend before the first regular-season high school football game.
In the case of a proposed cut to the playoffs that doesn't include adding classifications, the only other option besides moving the start of the season up a week to accommodate the size of the bracket is cutting a regular season game and moving to a nine-game regular season schedule.
"I doubt any coach would want to do that. I think you can move everything up a week," said Montoursville head coach JC Keefer. "It's summer time and you aren't digging into other things. You would dig into Little League Baseball around here but that's it."
If a change is made, though, don't' expect anything to change on the field. Teams will be playing just as hard as they do now. There won't be a different strategy and teams won't approach games any differently. The only difference is there is a lot more on the line with each passing game.
"High school coaches do everything they possibly can to give their team the best chance to win. We won't be thinking 'we have to make sure we are in the top four seeds,'" Keefer said. "My and my staff-and I can speak for all the coaches in the district - we all give everything we can give all year long for these 10 games and so there is nothing else we would be able to do differently any Friday night.
The bottom line, however, isn't just about a few teams not making the playoffs if a cut were to be implemented. If there is a cut to the District 4 playoffs and classifications aren't added to compensate the whole area will suffer, as several very good teams will be left out, especially when solid teams like Loyalsock and Montoursville would be left out and perennial powerhouses Bloomsburg and Mount Carmel would as well.
"It moved to eight teams in AA because of the quality of the football teams in our district and I think this year is a classic example of that," Keefer said. "It could very easily be the bottom four teams that win in the first round in AA. I like the way it is now and I think our district is so solid across the board even in A or AAA.
"If anything, move football up a week or you could eliminate a scrimmage. I would hate to see the playoffs suffer because I think you could really have a district champion in those lower seeds and it usually comes down to who is playing the best at the end of the year."