High School Football

After initial success, Idaho expands plan to seed state playoffs by computer rankings

Idaho experimented with using computer rankings to seed its high school football playoffs last fall. It went so well, the state plans to expand it in 2019.

The 3A football playoffs will start using RPI rankings to seed its 11-team playoff next season, according to a first draft of the bracket passed by the Idaho High School Activities Association Board of Directors on Tuesday. The bracket would need to pass a second vote at its Jan. 23 meeting to become final.

“In 2A, there were definitely some coaches happy with it, and the athletic directors were happy with it,” said Ty Jones, executive director of the state activities association. “When they are pleased, that’s a good thing for us.”

The 2A classification pioneered the computer rankings in Idaho this season, breaking with years of brackets drawn before the season. The RPI rankings popularized by college basketball weigh a team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents into a single score to rank every team in the state.

The 3A classification toyed with adding RPI rankings to its playoffs last season but opted to wait a year and see how it went in 2A. The 3A coaches jumped to add it after a successful season in 2A, when the top four teams advanced to the semifinals.

“The ultimate goal is to have the best two teams meet in the state championship,” Homedale coach Matt Holtry said. “Going the RPI route, at least you put the 1 and 2 on the opposite side of the bracket.

“There might be some discrepancy between 4 and 5 and 5 and 8, but the ultimate goal is to get the top teams away from each other. The predetermined bracket never assured that. Sometimes you had the two best teams meet in the quarterfinals or the semis.”

Holtry pointed to next season’s predrawn brackets as an example. If this season played out next year, state finalists Homedale and Sugar-Salem would meet in the quarterfinals. The Diggers and the Trojans finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the 3A RPI rankings last season.

“That was an example right there of the top two teams playing each other in the quarterfinals, where RPI helps avoid that scenario,” Holtry said.

The 3A bracket shrinks from 12 teams to 11 under the RPI plan. All 11 qualify based on their conference finish. Representation from each league remains the same, but the classification loses its at-large berth in order to give all five conference champions a bye into the quarterfinals.

The first round instead features three games pitting the six teams who didn’t win a conference title against each other. The three winners then join the five league champs in the quarterfinals, where the teams are seeded No. 1 through No. 8 based on their regular-season RPI.

Results from the first round won’t count in the seeding, and conference champs are not guaranteed a top five ranking.

Holtry said he’d like to see Idaho adopt the RPI rankings for all of its state tournaments, in all of its sports. But Jones said the IHSAA hasn’t received any requests to expand the rankings and wants to take it slow.

“Right now, the playoff brackets are working in every other classification,” Jones said. “They are happy with what they are using. But we would never say never.”

The IHSAA also passed first drafts of playoff brackets in the 5A, 4A, 2A and 1A classifications Tuesday with no significant changes from last season.

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