Years of discussion lead to state’s new playoff format
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org August 22, 2013 10:50PM
Zach Spicer, The Tribune/ Brownstown Central football head coach Reed May talks to his team after the 2012 preseason scrimmage against Jennings County.
Updated: September 24, 2013 6:04AM
What does it take to make a format change in the most successful high school sport financially in the state? A coalition that is completely unified on the new format and someone willing to do all the necessary leg work — surveying members and building alliances — to execute the plan.
Then, of course, the IHSAA board has to approve it.
In the case of the added sixth class for football, the point man for the reconfigured tournament, the person most responsible for unifying the coaches and getting the extra class added, the person most responsible for likely changing the tournament forever in Indiana, was Reed May, the coach at Brownstown Central.
Interestingly, May didn’t care about adding an extra class. He was in it for the tradition factor — the rule that says that any team that gets to the state finals in two consecutive years gets bumped up a class. Brownstown plays in Class 3A, where Indianapolis Chatard has won the last three titles and five of the last seven.
“It was horse trading,” May said of how he got the bigger schools on board. “Some schools wanted an extra class and we wanted the tradition factor.”
The new format appeared to roll in quickly, with the IHSAA making an announcement in the spring of 2012 that it would add another class for football and institute the tradition factor with the next enrollment reclassification.
But the new bylaw was really the residue of years of frustration among coaches about the uneven format in football. It was frustration that never really amounted to much more than disjointed discourse at the annual coaches meetings without any real solutions.
Finally, May propelled the discussion forward in March of 2011 with a plea for a proposal that would satisfy all the coaches.
“Every year, the same thing came up,” he said. “I just finally said, ‘If we can’t get any consensus, this is never going to change.’ ”
That declaration turned out to be May’s invitation to go to work.
He spent all spring and summer sending out surveys to schools with a proposal that included a sixth class, the tradition factor and a sectional format that seeded each school based on the Sagarin Ratings.
The support for the new bylaw in the survey was near unanimous: Almost 96 percent of the coaches voted and 92 percent were in favor of the new rules.
The coaches and even IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox were impressed. In January of 2012, after the IHSAA had taken its own surveys, the new proposal was passed unanimously with a few tweaks: There would be no seeding (Cox opposed seeding because it is not used in any other sport) and the IHSAA used a two-year time frame evaluating whether a team could move up a class rather than a four-year period. The new system appeared to be just about perfect.
There was no change for the largest schools except for smaller sectionals. The borderline 5A schools, like LaPorte and Munster and Michigan City, were competing with schools whose enrollment was similar to their enrollment and the private schools didn’t mind. They only moved up if they were really successful.
May said almost everyone was excited about the new format.
“We were just hoping to find a competitive balance,” he said. “There were teams winning state titles three years in a row. Something had to be done. It surprised me how many parochial schools voted for it. A lot of those coaches knew they could move up voluntarily but they weren’t going to do that on their own. They knew if they moved up and struggled, it could be a problem for them with their fans. If there is a formula, they have to move up.”
There were a few other tweaks that were added later. Class 6A will always have 32 schools in it, which means four-team sectionals. Class 5A is the overflow class. This year, there are 34 schools in 5A, which means there are two play-in games. The other four classes have 64 schools in them.
And, Class 5A, with the exception of the two play-in games, will take a week off after the regular season. Class 6A gets an extra week off after semistate.
Munster coach Leroy Marsh, whose team has a lot to gain from the new format, likes it. Marsh, whose team played in the largest class, said it’s possible the Mustangs could drop down to 4A at some point. Munster’s enrollment has been relatively stable over the years.
“I think this is a fair format,” he said.