IHSAA approves changes for new playoff system

By Justin Webster, Fairfield Ledger

At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the Iowa High School Athletic Association?s Board of Control approved changes to the sports playoff qualifying system, and will now allow out-of-state contests starting with the 2018 season. Classifications and a new two-year district format were also approved at the meeting.

?Player safety is the number one priority,? IHSAA executive director Alan Beste said, ?and we are also committed to playing early round postseason games on Friday nights. Keeping 16 qualifiers per class allows for maximum recovery time between games and maintains high school?s Friday night tradition.?

Number of playoff teams discussed

The number of regular season games and playoff teams per class will remain unchanged for 2018 and 2019, although the Iowa Football Coaches Association and playoff football advisory committee both recommended to expand the postseason field to 32 teams in Classes 3A, 2A, 1A, A, and 8-Player, and 24 teams in Class 4A after a nine-game regular season. However, the Board of Control unanimously opted to maintain the current schedule with nine regular season games and 16 postseason qualifiers per class, which will allow the season to end before a holiday break, and avoid further overlap with winter seasons.

The new format for 2018-19 is as follows:

Class 4A: 42 teams, 7 districts, 6 teams per district; 4 non-district games per team.

Class 3A, 2A, 1A: 54 teams, 9 districts, 6 teams per district; 4 non-district games per team.

Class A: 62 teams, 8 districts with 6 teams, and 2 districts with 7 teams; 4 non-district games per team in 6-team districts and 3 non-district games per team in 7-team districts.

8-Player: 65 teams, 7 districts with 8 teams and 1 district with 9 teams; 2 non-district games per team in 8-team districts and 1 non-district game per team in 9-team district (Week 0 possible).

Postseason Qualifying System

A provisional recommendation approved by the Board changes how the 16 teams in each class will qualify for their playoffs starting in 2018.

The new format for 2018-19 is as follows:

1. Only the district champion or teams tying for a district championship receive automatic qualification.

2. For the first time since the debut of district football, all nine games will count toward postseason qualification.

3. The 17-point district tiebreaker will be eliminated and not factor into qualification.

4. Remaining at-large qualifiers will be determined by a Ratings Percentage Index formula. The RPI will use three criteria to determine postseason qualification.

a. Team?s overall win-loss percentage (accounting for 37.5% of the index)

b. Team?s opponent?s win-loss percentage (37.5%)

c. Team?s opponent?s opponent?s win-loss percentage (25%)

5. Classification differences between non-district opponents do not affect RPI.

?Our goal is to have the best 16 teams in each class qualify for the playoffs,? Beste said. ?We believe we get closer to that goal by having only district champions as automatic qualifiers, and the remainder of qualifiers determined by their success and the success of their opponents and other successful teams.?

What is the RPI formula? And where did it come from?

RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index. The NCAA uses variations of the RPI as a metric to rank teams for postseasons in multiple sports. The RPI number will range between .0000 and 1.000 with higher numbers being ?better? in terms of a rating. In short, it is a way to measure a team?s strength relative to other teams, based largely on the strength of their schedules.

What percentages are being used in the formula?

The IHSAA decided to weigh three criteria in its first football RPI, which was approved at Wednesday?s Board of Control meeting.

WP = Your own winning percentage (weighted 37.5%),

OWP = Your opponents? composite winning percentage (weighted 37.5%), and

OOWP = Your opponents? opponents? composite winning percentage (weighted 25%)

So, the RPI formula used for the 2018 football season is: RPI = (.375 WP) + (.375 OWP) + (.25 OOWP)

What happens if two teams are tied in the final RPI standings?

Tiebreaker for this scenario is as follows:

1. Head-to-head result between the two teams

2. Winning percentage

3. Opponents? winning percentage

4. Opponents? opponents winning percentage

5. Alphabet Draw

Class 3A District 6 features the five teams that comprise the Southeastern Conference in every other sport, plus district champion and state semi-finalist Solon from the groups previous Class 3A district 5 assignment over the last two seasons that also featured Oskaloosa and West Burlington/Notre Dame.

Head Coach Garrison Carter from Washington and Matt Jones from Fairfield discussed the changes.

Q) What are the benefits to smaller districts besides travel costs?

Matt Jones, Fairfield

?The biggest change, to me, is that every game will matter when it comes to playoff consideration with the RPI ratings. In the past, non district games didn?t factor into the playoff formula. Now, every Friday Night counts not only for the community, fans, players and school, but also for the playoff committee.?

Garrison Carter, Washington

?It allows you to schedule more non-district games and promotes the creation of rivalry games.?

Q) What do think of your placement? Fair or foul? Thoughts on other teams that may be joining you?

Jones: ?I think the placement is about what we thought. It?s exciting to play our SEC schools, as there are natural rivalries there and the kids get to know each other because they compete often in hoops, wrestling, track, baseball and others. Also, we all know how good Solon is. We know they were a final four team last year that lost to the eventual state champ.?

Carter: ?The district is about what we expected. We figured it would be the conference schools and then either Solon, Oskaloosa or CCA. I?m not surprised that the state sent Solon this way, as geography isn?t always the only thing they look at. I think they have a vested interest in splitting up the perennial state powers.?

Q) Do you like the postseason rule changes? Do you like that only district champions are guaranteed a playoff spot? Will this encourage schools to play down to ?weaker? teams in non-district play to improve overall records? Will it be harder or easier to fill in the four open dates because of this?

Jones: ?I wish the IHSAA would have gone back to a nine game schedule with 32 playoff qualifiers from 3A, or even get creative with a 24 team playoff. I?m afraid there will be 8-1 teams left out of the playoffs, and that?s not good for our game. The IHSAA did give some good advice to not fret over one game on the non-district schedule, but to look at the schedule as a whole. Our Activities Director, Jeff Courtright, and I have talked a bit, and the first question we asked ourselves is ?Who can we schedule to give our student/athletes a great playing experience?? We will put a variety of schools on our request list for non-district games and work to include some schools that give us a couple or all of these - acceptable travel time, quality facilities, natural rivalry, some familiarity, and similar community make-up.?

Carter: ?I was really hoping to see the state go back to 32 qualifiers. I just think that we are fighting hard to save this game right now. Participation numbers continue to fall, and with only 16 qualifiers it only hurts that. Playoff games are huge for kids, school districts and communities. It?s a shame that 16 teams in each class will miss out on that opportunity. I also think with 32 qualifiers it makes more games mean something later in the season.?