Get ready for an overhaul of how Idaho’s high school football teams qualify for the state playoffs next fall.
The Idaho High School Activities Association Board of Directors approved first drafts Tuesday to increase the number of at-large berths in the 5A playoffs and expand the 4A playoffs to 16 teams.
The board is also weighing measures to seed the 3A and 2A playoffs based on computer rankings, a first in Idaho. It postponed a vote on the 3A and 2A proposals until Jan. 17 to gather more input.
All measures must pass the IHSAA board twice before becoming final.
“I see pros and cons to both,” IHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones said of the computer rankings. “My first question is if we’re going to change something, why change it? And if we do change it, will it be better than what we currently have?”
Twelve teams will continue to qualify for the 5A playoffs for the fifth year in a row, but the at-large field will expand from one to three teams.
The revised 12-team playoff awards automatic berths to teams finishing in the top half of their league — five of 10 from Boise’s SIC, two of four from North Idaho and two of four from East Idaho. Conference champs and the top two teams from the SIC earn byes into the quarterfinals.
The three at-large berths go to teams with the highest winning percentage against 5A programs or schools with a large enough enrollment (1,280) to play in Idaho’s 5A classification. That’s how the state has awarded the lone at-large berth the past four years.
Even with only 18 teams in the 5A classification next fall, Timberline Athletic Director Tol Gropp said coaches and administrators wanted to keep the 12-team playoffs to reward conference championships and ensure equal access to the playoffs around the state.
“We didn’t want to have one team from a region,” said Gropp, who is also an IHSAA board member. “In order to keep it so you have two teams in each region each year, you had to go to 12 teams.”
The expansion of the at-large field became possible as the 5A SIC moves from 12 to 10 teams in the fall. Columbia, Kuna and Nampa will drop to 4A, while Skyview moves up to 5A.
That allows the league to get rid of the two divisions, or pods, it has used the past four years. All 10 teams in the league will instead play a nine-game conference schedule with zero nonconference games.
“It just makes more sense to move forward playing everybody once so you know where everyone is in the rankings, so you don’t end up with one pod stronger than the other,” Gropp said. “I know we’re losing out on playing teams around the state. But in our conference, we wanted to get it right.”
Idaho’s second-largest classification prepares to expand its playoffs from 12 to 16 teams due to the growing number of schools in 4A. The classification increases from 23 to 28 teams starting in the fall.
The expanded playoffs allows the state to keep equal representation (50 percent or better) from each of the four regions. Five of the nine teams from the Boise area automatically will qualify, along with two of three from North Idaho, five of 10 from a combined Pocatello-Twin Falls district and three of six from Idaho Falls.
The 16th playoff spot is an at-large berth split between the Idaho Falls and Pocatello-Twin Falls districts. Tiebreakers include head-to-head results, record vs. common opponents and a MaxPreps.com ranking.
“Because of the increase in the number of teams, it really made it very difficult to keep it at 12 teams,” said Minico coach Tim Perrigot, who is also an IHSAA board member. “Especially for Northern Idaho, where they have three teams. You can’t give them two teams if you have a 10-team conference in District 4-5 and nine teams in Boise.
“Teams were willing to give up that first-round bye and expand it to 16 teams.”
The 3A classification proposed to keep its playoffs at 12 teams and continue the same qualifying process. But it would abandon a bracket that predetermines matchups before the season in favor of one seeded by MaxPreps.com computer rankings.
The top five seeds, including four with first-round byes, would be guaranteed to conference champions with the order determined by the MaxPreps rankings. The final seven teams, including one at-large berth, are then seeded into the bracket using their MaxPreps rankings.
The at-large berth is also determined by MaxPreps rankings like it was the past two years.
Homedale coach Matt Holtry said coaches designed the plan to avoid the unbalanced brackets the classification has battled the past two years. This fall, undefeated and defending state champion Fruitland had to play in the first round while every other conference champ received a bye. The Grizzlies then faced the No. 10 (Teton), No. 3 (Sugar-Salem) and No. 2 (Shelley) teams in MaxPreps’ final rankings before reaching the state championship game.
“We felt it was time we got it seeded right so we got the right two teams in the championship game,” Holtry said. “Kids play their whole life for this opportunity, and coaches coach several years for this opportunity.
“There’s something to be said about the state championship games being the top two teams. Sometimes it works out, but this is more of a guarantee that they don’t have to meet each other in the second round or the semifinals.”
Jones said Idaho uses brackets drawn before the season for all of its sports to limit travel, spread travel expenses around the state and avoid conference rematches, when possible.
“It is a seeded bracket. It’s just a different way of seeding,” Jones said. “We seed according to conference champions, then we break it down for a lot of our activities, if at all possible, to have the As and Bs on the opposite side of the bracket. That way they can have an opportunity to meet in the state finals.
“People think that we don’t seed. We do. We just seed according to conference champs.”
Jones pointed out 19 of the 24 state semifinalists this year won conference titles.
The 2A plan follows many of the same principles as the 3A proposal. Conference champions would be guaranteed the top five spots, eight more teams receive automatic berths in the 16-team bracket based on conference standings and three at-large berths are up for grabs.
But the 2A plan uses Colorado’s RPI (Rating Percentage Index) system for seeding.
RPI is a formula popularized by the NCAA college basketball selection committee that calculates a single score based on a team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage.
The Colorado RPI formula weighs a team’s record heavier than a traditional RPI, and it accounts for cross-classification games. RPI does not measure margin of victory in its formula, meaning a one-point win and a 50-point are equal.
West Side coach Tyson Moser said the plan prevents winless and one-win teams from perennially making the playoffs. Wendell (0-7) and Soda Springs (1-7) qualified for the playoffs this fall while Ririe (5-3) did not.
“Any seeding and ranking system is never going to be 100 percent accurate,” Moser said. “We understand that. But there’s nothing more inaccurate than a predetermined bracket drawn up two years in advance.”
Jones said the IHSAA board hesitated for the same reasons it did on the 3A brackets, namely increased travel costs. It’s also unclear who would calculate the RPI rankings.
“Travel is a huge issue,” Jones said. “It’s not cheap to put a football team on a bus.”