High School Football

Changes are coming to the Kentucky HS football playoffs. They take effect this fall.

Kentucky’s high school football postseason will look different than it ever has before beginning this fall.

The KHSAA Board of Control voted Wednesday to introduce Ratings Percentage Index seeding to the third and fourth rounds of the football playoffs, marking the first time that a ratings system will be used to organize a team sport’s postseason in KHSAA-sanctioned competition.

The board also voted to return to an intra-district format for the first two rounds of the football playoffs, moving away from the cross-bracketing format that took hold in most classes of competition during the past decade.

Football programs have recently expressed concerns about cross-bracketing because of the cost to some programs relative to the level of competition — traveling several hours to lose a first-round blowout increasingly became less justifiable. Going back to playing district opponents in the first couple of rounds won’t necessarily reduce lopsided outcomes, but does reduce the travel time and cost associated with those games while still affording those teams a participation opportunity.

“They wanted to rotate pairings but that creates a lot of early-round travel,” KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said. “And you add mismatches to that that nobody’s coming to — there were two or three, not many, but two or three Class A games where I’m trying to figure out how they paid the referees. And that’s part of guarding the game. So (coaches) said, ‘That’s not good.’”

Eliminating the advancement of district three and four seeds to the postseason was briefly discussed during Wednesday’s meeting, but ultimately losing that participation opportunity is not desirable, Tackett said.

The RPI formula the KHSAA plans to use has been adopted by several states and was popularized at the prep level by the Colorado High School Sports Association. The formula is: RPI = (0.3 x winning percentage) + (0.4 x opponents’ winning percentage) + (0.3 opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage). Modifiers exist to help adjust for opponents that play in smaller or larger classes, and is no incentive for teams to run the score up against their opponents, which was a decisive factor for the KHSAA in adopting it for use,

“Everybody — coaches, our staff, the board — said, ‘No, we need to stay away from that,’” Tackett said. “We didn’t want to create this old-fashioned BCS computer formula that goes, ‘How much does this rating weigh and how much does this rating weigh?’ I think that’s why in various states the RPI has gotten so popular. It’s just a function of your schedule, and you’re rewarded for playing a tougher schedule.

The KHSAA will publish weekly RPI ratings throughout the season via KHSAA.org. Tackett said RPI rankings could also be made available for other sports, though there are currently no discussions of or intentions to apply the metric to anything beyond the third and fourth rounds of the football postseason.

“It could be that we try it and they go, ‘Oh my, what have we done,’” Tackett said. “The beauty of it is it fits so well in football that it’s a good beta test for using it. We’re not ready for what Florida just did, where they adopted the RPI and now they’re gonna use it to decide that’s who gets in the playoffs. We’re not ready for that. We’re just looking at a way to create bracketing, not anything else.”