Prep Football

Iowa high school football coaches react to changes announced by IHSAA

New playoff qualifying system, district format changes, but playoff field remain at 16 teams

Marion's Chris Mohwinkle stiff arms Center Point-Urbana's Dalton Hite during a game last season. (Cliff JetteThe Gazette)
Marion's Chris Mohwinkle stiff arms Center Point-Urbana's Dalton Hite during a game last season. (Cliff JetteThe Gazette)

BOONE — The Iowa High School Athletic Association announced changes for the 2018 prep football season.

Among them are a new playoff-qualifying system, implementing a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) formula, a new district format and out-of-state contests. The IHSAA Board of Control also decided to keep the playoff field for all classes at 16 teams and eliminate the 17-point tiebreaker.

The moves were met with a wide range of reaction from football coaches when they were made public Wednesday. Plenty of questions still remain about the process that will begin Thursday when district assignments will be finalized and released.

“I can’t say I didn’t know it was coming,” Marion Coach Tim Lovell said. “I think (the format) is a little suspect.”

Automatic playoff berths will be awarded to all district champions and teams that tie for a district title. The remaining field will be determined by the RPI, which includes a team’s win-loss percentage for all nine games, the team’s opponents' win-loss percentage and a team’s opponents' opponents' win-loss percentage.

According to a news release by the IHSAA, this will mark the first year since district football was implemented that all nine games will count toward postseason qualification.

“I don’t think any of us like playing games that don’t count,” Williamsburg Activities Director and Coach Curt Ritchie said. “I’m glad all games count.


“I think anytime you have any point system it is a little bit scary. I don’t know how it is all going to work out.”

Teams will need to consider an opponent’s strength when it schedules future non-district opponents. A weak non-district schedule could be a deciding factor for teams in the pool fighting for an at-large playoff berth.

“It’s probably the fairest way to do it,” Kennedy Coach Brian White said. “You never know how your district is going to be when you have new groups come together and sophomores moving up.

“I think it gives everybody an extra shot at getting to the playoffs, regardless of what your district is.”

White has already planned to bolster his non-district games. He said the new format emphasizes adding stronger programs to help with the RPI.

“We’re going to try to make a splash in non-district,” White said. “We’re going to try to load up with some very good teams and have reached out to the west side of the state and one of the perennial powers over there to put them pretty high on our list.”

Currently, programs submit a wish list to the state of what teams they would like to play in the non-district slate. If teams have each other high on their lists, it’s likely they will be scheduled, but it isn’t guaranteed, which is an issue for some coaches. Programs are at the mercy of the IHSAA, even if you try to improve non-district competition.

“After talking to coaches today, there are a couple concerns,” East Buchanan Coach Jerry Alden said Wednesday. “If they’re going to a RPI system, which we are, it’s hard for a coach to get on board when we aren’t guaranteed to get the four (non-district) teams we choose in that pod, so in essence in my view the state can basically determine who is going to make the playoffs by the four teams that they give you.


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“I’m not against the RPI, but I’m against not getting to choose your (non-district) teams,” Alden said. “We may want to go out and schedule tougher teams the way they have it worded because your opponents' wins and your opponents' opponents' wins all add up.”

Alden said he doesn’t like possible ties for a district title and a tiebreaker should be used to determine a sole champion and the rest be added to the rest of wild card teams.

Ritchie said he was surprised the point system wasn’t weighted for playing against larger and smaller classes.

“I thought there would be something in there that if you bump up a class it would reward more points. I thought there would be some sort of a classification,” Ritchie said. “Right now, I don’t see why you would play someone from a different class.”

Forty-two teams will compete in seven Class 4A districts of six teams with four nine district games. Classes 1A, 2A and 3A will consist of nine six-team districts with four non-district contests as well.

Class A is more complicated, including 62 teams. Eight districts will be made up of six teams with two seven-team districts. Teams in six-team districts will have four non-district games. Larger districts will have just three non-district games.

Sixty-five teams will compete in 8-player football. Seven districts will have eight teams and one will have nine. Both will round out a nine-game schedule with non-district contests.

The IHSAA disregarded recommendations to expand the playoffs to 32 teams in the five smallest classes and 24 teams in 4A after a nine-game regular season.


“I like 16,” said Lovell, adding that he thought the RPI was better than the current system. “The playoffs should be worth something. Thirty-two would have felt watered down.”

Ritchie said 16 may not be enough teams, leaving capable teams at home, but 32 might be too many. Mount Vernon Coach Lance Pedersen doesn’t think the 16-team postseason field is good for Iowa football.

“People talked years ago how 32 teams watered down the playoffs, but with 16, how it’s set up, a 7-2 team could get in ahead of an 8-1 team,” Pedersen said. “If you want to increase participation, give teams a better chance to play in the (playoffs).”

White said he can see a case for both and is torn. For the players’ sake, he would prefer more chances for them to experience postseason football.

“I’m mixed on that,” White said. “I think there is some value to only having 16 teams. It’s elite, but I also believe that I’m trying to build young, strong men. To give kids an opportunity to play in the postseason, I think it helps out with that.

“For me, I want the kids to have that opportunity.”

Alden said the IHSAA has asked the Iowa Football Coaches Association to establish committees and doesn’t seem to accept their recommendations. The decision on the playoff field is an example of the IHSAA going its own route.

Coaches seem to have less input on how the sport is run.

“They’re going completely against what the Coaches Association wanted,” Pedersen said. “It frustrates me that we don’t have much say any more. There’s nothing (in this format) that we asked for.”

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