Alterations are being made to the qualifying system for the Iowa high school football playoffs beginning this fall, and teams will be allowed to play out-of-state opponents during the regular season for the first time in six years.

The Iowa High School Athletic Association's Board of Control adopted the changes during a meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 24, 2018). Also approved were classifications and a new two-year district format.

The number of regular season games and playoff teams per class will remain unchanged for 2018 and 2019, despite recommendations from the Iowa Football Coaches Association (IFCA) and the playoff football advisory committee to increase the number of postseason qualifiers. The two groups wanted the Board to expand the postseason field from the current total of 96 teams to 184 -- 24 in Class 4A and 32 each in Classes 3A, 2A, 1A, A, and 8-Player. The IHSAA’s football playoffs featured 32 qualifiers per class from 2008 through 2015, before returning to its prior format of 16 postseason squads in each of the six classifications in 2016.

The Board of Control unanimously decided to maintain the current nine-game regular season schedule and 16 playoff qualifiers per class. That format will allow the postseason to end before Thanksgiving and avoid further overlap with winter seasons. Teams will continue to have nine home games and nine away games over the two-year district cycle.

“Player safety is the number one priority, and we are also committed to playing early-round postseason games on Friday nights," IHSAA executive director Alan Beste said in a press release announcing the Board's action. “Keeping 16 qualifiers per class allows for maximum recovery time between games and maintains high school’s Friday night tradition.”

The Board of Control followed other provisional recommendations made in December’s advisory committee meeting in voting to distribute football districts and alter the 16-team qualifying structure.

District Breakdown
Based on classification changes made in October, the Board discussed and voted to approve football districts that will allow all classes to add non-district contests and reduce district travel. Classification and district assignments for 2018-19 will be finalized and released on Thursday, Jan. 25 under the following format:

  • Class 4A: 42 teams, 7 districts, 6 teams per district; 4 non-district games per team.
  • Class 3A, 2A, 1A: 54 teams, 9 districts, 6 teams per district; 4 non-district games per team.
  • Class A: 62 teams, 8 districts with 6 teams, and 2 districts with 7 teams; 4 non-district games per team in 6-team districts and 3 non-district games per team in 7-team districts.
  • 8-Player: 65 teams, 7 districts with 8 teams and 1 district with 9 teams; 2 non-district games per team in 8-team districts and 1 non-district game per team in 9-team district (Week 0 possible).

Postseason Qualifying System
A provisional recommendation approved by the Board changes how the 16 teams in each class will qualify for the playoffs in 2018 and 2019:

    • Only the district champion or teams tying for a district championship receive automatic qualification.
    • For the first time since the debut of district football, all nine games will count toward postseason qualification.
    • The 17-point district tiebreaker will be eliminated and not factor into qualification.
    • Remaining at-large qualifiers will be determined by a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) formula.

The RPI will use three criteria to determine postseason qualification:

  1. Team’s overall win-loss percentage (accounting for 37.5% of the index)
  2. Team’s opponent’s win-loss percentage (37.5%)
  3. Team’s opponent’s opponent’s win-loss percentage (25%)

Classification differences between non-district opponents do not affect RPI. The NCAA uses RPI in several men’s and women’s sports. The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) debuted a similar RPI system in 2016.

“Our goal is to have the best 16 teams in each class qualify for the playoffs,” Beste said. “We believe we get closer to that goal by having only district champions as automatic qualifiers, and the remainder of qualifiers determined by their success and the success of their opponents and other successful teams.”

Out-Of-State Competition

The Board of Control approved an additional recommendation allowing varsity football teams to play games against nearby opponents in border states – Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas.

“We will protect Iowa teams first, ensuring they have games each week,” Beste said. “However, we do have schools on our borders and other Iowa schools expressing interest in traveling for out-of-state competition. Accommodating those requests for competitive and geographical purposes is a reasonable thing to do.”

Iowa varsity squads last played out-of-state opponents in non-district games in 2011.