Kansas high school football in Classes 6A and 5A will feature a new-look playoff format this season that will put increased emphasis on teams’ regular-season schedules.
In previous years, teams were divvied into four-school districts. Each team ended the regular season with a round-robin slate of district games, and the top two finishers in each four-team district moved on to the playoffs.
But this season, districts have been eradicated. Teams will play eight-game regular seasons, then be divided into “east” and “west” sections of the state. The Kansas State High School Activities Association will seed teams at the end of the season, one through 16 on each side. The season’s Week 9, previously part of the regular season, will now serve as the de facto first week of the postseason, where everyone is guaranteed a game.
Seeding will be based on winning percentages, with tiebreakers coming via head-to-head results, then margin of victory (combined throughout the season, with no team receiving more than 21 points per game, even if they won by more). The team with the better seed will always serve as the host.
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“I think it’s a positive,” said Ben Bartlett, who coached Shawnee Mission North to a 3-7 record in 2015. “Getting a good seed in the playoffs would be more satisfying this year, because it means we were successful for more than just the end of the season. Now every game really counts.”
For some teams, the new system theoretically gives them a better chance at postseason success, even if they’ve struggled in the regular season. Everyone is guaranteed a spot in the postseason bracket, so no one has to rely on late-season momentum to make it in.
With the introduction of a seeding process, though, teams who play tougher schedules may find themselves with worse seeds, come the end of the season.
“It’s not necessarily good or bad,” said Andy Sims, head coach of Blue Valley North, which finished 8-2 last year. “We have one of the toughest schedules in the metro area; half our opponents have either won or played for a state championship in the last two years. So seeding might be tough for a school like mine. Sometimes you need favorable scheduling to get a decent seed.”
The new format, which was originally proposed by the Wichita City and Sunflower leagues, was approved for a two-year cycle. After that, the situation will be reevaluated to determine if it will continue after 2017.
“People can kind of look at it like a March Madness bracket, picking what the intriguing matchups will be,” said Mark Lentz, assistant executive director at KSHSAA. “It’s a really exciting thing, and it’ll be fun to follow.”