Prep Football

How the 2020 Iowa high school football playoffs will work

Forget full brackets. Think of the postseason as three tournaments of two rounds apiece. And after the games end next Friday night, just go to bed.

Western Dubuque football coach Justin Penner talks to his team after their Class 3A championship last season. (Jim Slosi
Western Dubuque football coach Justin Penner talks to his team after their Class 3A championship last season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Here’s your first tip for the 2020 Iowa high school football playoffs:

Don’t stay up late after Week 7 games are completed. That 3 a.m. bracket release to which you’ve grown accustomed? Not going to happen.

“Our goal will be to release pods at noon Saturday (Oct. 10),” Iowa High School Athletic Association assistant director Todd Tharp said Tuesday in an interview with The Gazette.

Due to a coronavirus-forced reformat of the football season, the seven-week regular season ends next week. Then, it’s the playoffs, a six-layer journey in which everybody — well, almost everybody — will participate.

And here’s your second tip:

Think of the playoffs not as a six-round tournament, but rather as three different tournaments of two rounds each.

“I know that everybody likes their brackets, and they like to print them out and follow along from the first round to the last,” Tharp said. “But that’s not how it’s going to work this year.”

Instead, teams will be grouped into 16 “pods” in each class. Those pods will consist of two, three or four teams, depending on how many teams are in each class.

Class 4A consists of 40 teams. Take away the Des Moines Public Schools (currently on hiatus because they are not doing face-to-face learning), and that number is 36. If that remains the case, only eight teams will be playing in the first round while the other 28 receive first-round byes.

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Classes 3A, 2A and 1A all have 54 teams (though 3A’s Des Moines Hoover is out indefinitely). A 54-team field would mean 10 teams get first-round byes.

“Our goal is for all nine district champions to get those byes, and the 10th would probably be one of the best (non-champion) teams,” Tharp said.

Class A is a field of 59 teams, which means only five teams would receive first-round byes.

In 8-Player, 67 teams began the season, but Clarksville recently canceled the remainder of its schedule. Tharp said that two other schools — he would not name them, but said they are in south-central Iowa — have opted not to play in the postseason, but will instead play each other in a Week 8 game. That leaves 64 teams, which creates a perfect six-round bracket.

Back to the pod format:

Teams will be grouped, primarily on geography, into 16 groups. Tharp said the IHSAA will try to pair teams from different districts in the first and second rounds (Oct. 16 and Oct. 23, respectively), but said it’s not a guarantee.

“I’ve had administrators tell me that, for the bottom teams, there’s no sense in traveling 90 miles to go get beat bad when they can go 10 miles for the same result,” he said.

Byes and home sites will go to the teams that performed best throughout the regular season. The elite teams in each class will have the opportunity to play at home through Round 4.

After the second round, the 16 “pod” champions advance to the third round of the playoffs, in which, Tharp said, the “playoffs” truly begin.

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Teams will be rebracketed into four brackets of four teams apiece, for the third round (Oct. 30) and the quarterfinals (Nov. 7). Again, the IHSAA will release the new brackets around noon on Saturday, Oct. 24.

At that point, the IHSAA will “try our best to avoid district matchups if at all possible,” Tharp said.

Teams will not receive awards as playoff qualifiers unless they are one of the final 16 teams.

With that, some frequently asked questions, relating to COVID-19:

What if Team A has a positive case during the postseason?

Then Team A’s game vs. Team B will be canceled, declared a no-contest and Team B will advance to the next round.

What if Team A beat Team B in the first round and then has a positive case? Does Team B get to come back and play Team C in the second round?

No. Team C will get a free pass from the second round to the third.

Team A missed three games in the regular season. Will it be penalized for that in the postseason?

No. Team A will be judged only on the games it did play and will be slotted in the playoffs accordingly. If, for instance, Iowa City West finishes 4-0, it will get a very high seed.

How about the UNI-Dome? How will that work?

The semifinals (Nov. 12-14) and championships (Nov. 19-20) are still scheduled for the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. But there won’t be a full house.

“There will be social distancing, so we won’t have 14,700 in the Dome,” Tharp said. “It might be more like 5,000 or 6,000 for each game.”

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Semifinal games have been scheduled at 3 1/2-hour increments — 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. — and the facility will be cleared after each game so the turf, benches and seats can be sanitized.

What’s the price of admission?

Tharp said the IHSAA has set admission as $6 for first- and second-round games, $8 for the third round and quarterfinals, and $10 for the semifinals and championships.

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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