By Andy Krutsinger, Mt. Pleasant News
Things are about to get a little more complicated when it comes to picking the playoff field in the state of Iowa. The Iowa High School Athletic Association released its new playoff criteria after its monthly meeting on Wednesday and the new forumla will see some big changes coming to the system next season.
The association looked at going back to 32 playoff teams in Class 3A, 2A, 1A and A, and switching to 24 teams in 4A, but decided to keep it at 16. The field was cut back in half in 2016 after a handful of years with 32 qualifiers.
One big change the association did make was to the number of teams per division in the bigger classes. In Class 3A, where Mt. Pleasant plays, the field is now 54 teams with nine districts, and only six teams per district. Mt. Pleasant?s 2018-19 district includes Fairfield, Ft. Madison, Keokuk, Solon and Washington.
In Class 8-Man, home to WACO and now home to Winfield-Mt. Union and New London, there will be 65 teams with seven districts and eight teams per district, besides one. Due to the odd number, one district would have to have nine teams.
As luck would have it, that district is District 4, home of all three Henry County small schools. Joining New London, WACO and W-MU will be English Valleys, H-L-V Victor, Iowa Valley, Lone Tree, Montezuma and Tri-County.
Teams can make the playoffs in a couple of different ways. The first way would be to win your district. Unlike in previous years, the top two teams will not automatically qualify. All district champions will qualify, including those who tie for the district title, even if they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker. The state did not specify what would happen if there were enough ties to go over 16 automatic qualifiers.
The rest of the field will be determined by the team?s RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). The RPI will take in to account the team?s overall win-loss percentage (37.5 percent of the index), their opponents win-loss percentage (37.5 percent) and their opponents? opponents? win-loss percentage (25 percent).
While district games do matter in terms of the district championship, the non-district games will count just as much towards the team?s RPI. This is the first time since the debut of districts that the non-district games will count towards postseason play.
Each team will play nine games, so due to the six-team 3A districts, almost half of Mt. Pleasant?s games will be non-district contests. The Panthers will play four non-district games each year.
The state also opened up out-of-state competition. The association says they will ensure Iowa teams have games each week but if the schedules work out, teams will now be able to play against nearby opponents in border states (Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas.)
The News reached out to the area?s head football coaches for comment and received an answer from W-MU head coach Scott McCarty. McCarty?s Wolves were last in the playoffs in the 2015-16 season.
McCarty says he is OK with sticking with 16 playoff teams (though he would have liked to see 32), but raised a couple of concerns over the RPI system.
?The idea behind it is fine, and I understand the state wants to get the top 16 teams into the playoffs but teams only control 37 percent of their own destiny,? McCarty says. ?Think about this, Team A beats Team B by 20 points. Team A is 7-2 and gets second in the district. Team B is 6-3 in their district but has a higher RPI by 0.2, and makes the playoffs. Does that seem fair? There will be 8-1 teams that are staying home in certain parts of the state because of their competition that is around them.?
Other coaches around the state have also voiced concern over the RPI system.
The state also eliminated the 17-point rule, which was used for the point-differential tiebreaker. The rule was put in place to give a team a maximum of 17 points in point-differential, discouraging teams from running up the score to improve their playoff position. Due to the new rules in place, point differential will no longer be used to determine anything.
The full explanation for the new playoff system, as well as all districts for the 2018-19 seasons can be found on the IAHSAA website.