League convened this month to create competitive balance among the 18 teams and design a new playoff format that gives byes to four teams.

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What’s the reward for a successful season?

A tough road toward repeating.

Garfield went undefeated in its Metro League football division last season before losing to O’Dea, 34-7, for the league title. Earlier this month the conference realigned its 18 football teams, which have been split into three divisions since 2014, in an effort to create competitive balance. That moved the Bulldogs among the league’s best beginning with the 2017 season.

“It’s a compliment in a lot of ways to be in that top tier,” Garfield coach Joey Thomas said. “We don’t know the schedule yet, but everybody is excited.”

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The Metro’s new Mountain Division will consist of league powerhouses O’Dea and Eastside Catholic along with Seattle Prep, Rainier Beach, Roosevelt and Garfield. O’Dea has won 23 league titles while Eastside Catholic won the Class 3A football state championship in 2015 and 2014.

Liberty and Sammamish are joining the Metro League. They played an independent football schedule last year against several Metro teams last season. Liberty was 12-1 last year, advancing to the Class 2A state title game. The Patriots will join the Metro’s Sound Division with West Seattle, Bishop Blanchet, Cleveland, Ballard and Nathan Hale.

Sammamish was placed in the Valley Division with Bainbridge, Chief Sealth, Franklin, Ingraham, and Lakeside. Those programs won a combined 10 games last season.

The divisions will fluctuate annually based on performance.

“In order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Thomas said. “O’Dea has been a traditional power forever so there’s nothing but respect. This is an opportunity to see where we’re at.”

The reconfigured Valley Division was a welcomed change for Sammamish. In 2015, the Totems forfeited five games due to injuries whittling the roster to 12 players. It had an independent schedule last fall, playing four Metro teams in its 4-5 finish.

Veteran quarterback’s coach Rylen Akana was named Sammamish’s head coach in February. His goal is for the Class 2A school to play in the Metro League for a few seasons and return to KingCo.

“This is going to give us a chance to build our program,” Akana said. “Not necessarily wins, but seeing that the kids can compete against schools with our same numbers. That’s all it takes. You start seeing some success and kids start coming out. I really feel they didn’t come out (in the past) because they were just going to get beat up every year. A couple years of good competition and then ease up back into KingCo is the smart thing to do.”

In addition to the realignment, the league has a new playoff schedule. It will give the top four teams in the Mountain Division a bye while the top four teams in the Sound Division will play against each other to advance. Here’s the complete format:

  • Mountain No. 1 vs. BYE
  • Mountain No. 2 vs. BYE
  • Mountain No. 3 vs. BYE
  • Mountain No. 4 vs. BYE
  • Mountain No. 5 vs. Valley No. 1
  • Mountain No. 6 vs. Sound No. 5
  • Sound No. 1 vs. Sound No. 4
  • Sound No. 2 vs. Sound No. 3