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Area football coaches speak out against KHSAA’s new format

By JOE MATHIS

Contributing Writer

Another major change is coming to a Kentucky High School Athletic Association postseason format.

Nearly four and a half months after the KHSAA voted major changes to its baseball and softball state tournament formats, the KHSAA Board of Control voted to change the football playoff structure at its meeting Wednesday.

Those changes include parting from the cross-bracketing system to having teams play fellow district opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

After the first two rounds of the playoffs, the KHSAA will then lean on a Rating Power Index, or RPI, to seed the remaining teams in the state quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. The RPI ranking will be updated weekly on the KHSAA website and will be calculated using 35 percent of a team’s strength of schedule, 35 percent on its opponent’s strength of schedule, and 30 percent on its opponents’ opponents strength of schedule.

The introduction of the RPI system will be totally different for the KHSAA football playoffs and something that Commissioner Julian Tackett said adds excitement to the third and fourth rounds.

“The RPI will be an exciting development, especially given the fact that it will be totally transparent,” Tackett said in a press release. “It does not reward teams for higher point margins, instead rewarding teams that play a tougher schedule, and will not be some group of people interjecting opinions and thoughts with potential unchecked bias.”

Boyle County head football coach Chuck Smith agrees.

“It was suggested that we rank those teams and just play a playoff like that with the teams ranked,” Smith said. “And I thought that was new, it was different, it was exciting. I think it will give momentum going into the playoffs. I thought it was a good idea.”

In the third round, teams will still be separated by east and west sides of the bracket. As it has been, districts 1-4 will be “west” teams, while districts 5-8 will be “east” teams. Those teams will be seeded 1-4 in their respective sides, with the top seeded team hosting the bottom seeded team on their side of the bracket.

The fourth round, or semi-state, will then be re-seeded with the top seeded team hosting the bottom seeded team regardless of geography. The winner of those games will then advance to the state championship game at Kroger Field.

While the new RPI format may create excitement — and unique playoff matchups — one thing that area coaches aren’t excited about is the structure of the first two rounds.

The new format for the first two rounds will have a district’s top seed playing the district’s bottom seed in the first round, while the number two and three seeded teams from the district will also play.

The winners from those games will then play each other in the second round before the RPI rankings take over. That means that teams will play their district opponents toward the tail end of the season before playing them again in the first and second round of the state playoffs.

“It’s not going to be good for Kentucky high school football to have these repeat matchups,” Mercer County head football coach David Buchanan said.

For example, take the 2018 Danville football team. The Admirals finished as the three seed in the seventh district last season. The seventh district was paired up with the eighth district in the first round, which means Danville had to travel to the eighth district’s second seeded team, Leslie County.

Under the new format, Danville would have traveled to their district’s second seeded team instead: Lexington Christian Academy. That would’ve meant Danville would have played LCA two games in a row. The Ads ended their regular season playing LCA before having a bye week prior to the playoffs starting.

“I think if you ask any football coach, ‘Do you want to play teams back to back?’ They’d say ‘heck no,’” Clevenger said. “It is what it is but the frustrating part is that it came out of nowhere. Schedules are set and we’ve got an open week next year the last week of the regular season. So we could very well be in the same situation we were in this year. I don’t think that’s good for the overall state of football.”

Clevenger and Smith were both in the football advisory meeting that took place Friday, Jan. 11 when the topic was discussed and both said that those in attendance were vehemently against it.

“Every coach in that meeting adamantly spoke up and said they were against the intra-district play in the first two rounds,” Smith said. “You could play the same team back to back or you could play the same team within two weeks. Nobody in there thought that was good for high school football.”

However, the KHSAA Board of Control approved the change, citing one of the reasons was because concerns from members regarding the long travel distance and lopsided scores in the first round of the playoffs.

That vote caught both Clevenger and Smith by surprise.

“It was to my thought that they were going to discuss it at this week’s meeting and then vote for it in February when they got feedback. But that’s not how the whole thing went down. They went ahead and voted it in and that’s the argument that a lot of us have,” Clevenger said. “To not get any type of feedback from the coaches, I’m just not sure that’s a good way of doing business.”

That’s exactly what Buchanan said.

“It’s a bad plan and the way it came about was even worse. There was little to no transparency,” Buchanan said.

The ‘Daniel Hopkins plan’

Buchanan, though, said he does support a future plan to restructure the playoffs, what he has referred to as the “Daniel Hopkins plan.”

Hopkins is the assistant principal at Garrard County High School. He, along with other friends, discussed and designed a restructuring of the playoffs that Hopkins says is very similar to what Illinois does.

The plan that Buchanan supports would split teams up into regions just like they are in basketball or baseball.

From there, teams would be divided into small, medium or large schools in their region. Small schools would play each other, medium schools against each other, and large schools against each other in their “districts.” A district winner would be guaranteed at least one home game.

After the regular season, the top 192 teams based on a point system would advance to the playoffs. That point system would hold teams accountable to schedule competitive teams — as well as reward teams for winning.

The KHSAA would then get together and, using the annual enrollment numbers, place the 32 schools with the lowest enrollment in a Class A playoff, the next 32 biggest schools in the Class 2A playoffs and so on.

Those teams would then be divided into geographical order. The eight most western teams would be in region 1 in each class, the next 8 would be in region 2, and so on through region four.

From there, the teams would be ranked seeds one through eight in each region to form the high school football playoff bracket.

“You still keep the same number of playoff teams. It’s a great plan and it would really help us a lot of we would look at that,” Buchanan said. “I think Daniel’s plan is the best plan I’ve seen.”

The 2019 season, however, will not feature that plan. It will, instead, feature the intra-districts in the first and second rounds, followed by the RPI rankings in round three and four.

How will it all workout? We’ll have to wait for this fall to find out.