With only two weeks remaining in the season, the regional playoff picture is beginning to unfold. However, because of The Viginia High School League's adjusted playoff format and rating scale for seeding determination, many schools still have playoff opportunities long after they would once have been eliminated. In each region, four teams from each division advance to regional play. Heading into the final two weeks of the season, 24 playoff berths remain undecided around the state.

In the Northern Region, Marshall, T.C. Williams, West Potomac and Annandale have clinched ties for their respective district titles with T.C. Williams and West Potomac having secured Division 6 playoff participation. However, because Marshall is a Division 5 school (low enrollment), the Great Falls District Division 6 (high enrollment) berth is open for an at-large team to be selected from anywhere in the region by Virginia Rating Scale points. Currently, South Lakes (13.38 rating average) leads Madison (11.13), Lake Braddock (9.63), Robinson (9.50) and Herndon (9.00) for the spot.

Marshall (15.00) and Yorktown (9.75) have clinched Division 5 playoff dates with Fairfax (8.63), Wakefield (7.22) and Edison (6.56) fighting for the last two spots.

Many more schools, including W.T. Woodson (8.88) in Division 6 and Mount Vernon (5.50) in Division 5 are mathematically alive for post-season play. However, complex and unlikely combinations of wins and losses would have to occur for one of these schools sneak in to the regional field.

Along with their own chances, several Northern Region teams are cautiously keeping track of developments in other regions eyeing possible match-ups in tournament play.

In the Northwest Region, Division 5 teams have dominated the district standings opening up at least three regional berths for at-large Division 6 teams. Courtland (13.11) leads the Commonwealth Disrict and the winner of this week's E.C. Glass (14.44) vs. Heritage (12.22) game will win the Western District title. All three teams will advance to the Division 5 playoffs. Salem (11.11), another Division 5 team, will win the Roanoke Valley District title and a Division 5 playoff spot with a win over Northside. A loss would eliminate Salem from any playoff competition and allow William Fleming (11.56) to secure a berth with rating points.

Woodbridge (11,38), Fauquier (11.25) and Pulaski County (8.43) have clinched at-large Division 6 berths with Osbourn Park (6.22), GW -- Danville (5.63), Gar-Field (5.50) and James Wood (5.11) in contention for the last spot should Salem defeat Northside.

While it's not easy to understand the VHSL's two-year old playoff format and even more difficult to keep track of the rating scale points used to determine the playoff berths, one thing is perfectly clear -- the new system has allowed more teams to contend for tournament spots and has increased spectator interest.

Intended to provide equal playoff opportunity regardless of school size and to increase tournament participation, the VHSL format divides each group (AAA, AA, A) into two divisions and doubles the size of the playoff pool. When the dust settles, six state champions will be crowned (two from each Group) as opposed to the old format which allowed for only three.

Originally, only the district winners would advance to post-season play. Last year's institution of the new plan allowed non-champions to qualify and an adjustment made this year requires teams to participate in the playoffs of their designated division. Should a low enrollment school win a district title, the high enrollment tournament berth is open to all high enrollment teams in the region based on the VHSL Rating Scale. This rule has kept teams fighting for playoff spots long after their district title chances have been ended, allowing non-district winners with excellent records to remain in contention.

Last season Marshall won the Great Falls District and Mount Vernon the Gunston and chose to play in the Division 6 playoffs despite a Division 5 classification. Thus Oakton, second in the Northern District with a 9-1 record, and W.T. Woodson (8-2) were eliminated from post-season play. Under the 1987 adjustments, Marshall will have to play in the Division 5 tournament, opening up a berth to a Division 6 team based on rating scale points. Had the current system been in effect last season, Oakton and Woodson would have qualified for post-season play.

The Northern Region is divided into Division 6 (high enrollment) and Division 5 (low enrollment). Division 6 is comprised of Annandale, Chantilly, Herndon, Lake Braddock, Madison, Oakton, Robinson, South Lakes, West Potomac, West Springfield, T.C. Williams, and W.T. Woodson. The schools classified as Division 5 are: Edison, Fairfax, Falls Church, Hayfield, Langley, Lee, Marshall, McLean, Mount Vernon, Stuart, Washington-Lee, Wakefield and Yorktown.

The rating system is really quite simple, if you have a calculator, plenty of batteries and happen to know the schedule and results of every team in Virginia. Depending on the Virginia Group (AAA, AA, A) classification, each team receives a predetermined amount of points for each win. Then, the winning team is awarded 1 point extra for each victory the defeated opponent accumulates. The points are added up and divided by the number of games played for the rating scale average.

For example, T.C. Williams was awarded 12 points for its win over Robinson. The Titans receive another point for each of the Rams' wins (six, to date), giving T.C. Williams 18 rating scale points for that particular game. If Robinson wins any of its remaining games, T.C. Williams' rating points increase. Similiar calculations are conducted for each week of the schedule and the total is divided by the number of games played, resulting in a rating scale average. The average is used to determine playoff berths.