How the Pairings are Determined

The boys football playoffs are the only IHSA tournament for which teams qualify on the basis of their regular-season records. Only 192 of the 544 football-playing schools qualify for the post-season playoffs. The following steps are used to determine which teams receive a playoff berth and how the playoff teams are paired.

Selecting the Playoff Teams

The first step is to select the 192 playoff teams. The process proceeds as follows:

1. All conference champions receive a playoff berth. If two or more teams are tied for the best record in a conference, the conference determines which team shall be the representative. In practice, two-team ties have always been broken on the basis of head-to-head competition when those teams have played during the regular season. Three- and four-way ties are broken by a variety of formulas.

2. The remaining schools are sorted by three categories:

3. Starting at the top of this sorted list, the teams are added to the playoff field until the 192-team limit is reached. In the event of a tie for the 192nd position, the following tiebreakers are applied:

In practice, teams with 9, 8, and 7 wins have always qualified for the playoffs. Teams with 6 wins are "on the bubble," and the tie is broken by the number of playoff points (the combined wins of all opponents). In the 11 years of the current system, the number of playoff points needed for a 6-win team to qualify for the playoffs has varied from 34 to 38.

Determining the Classes

After the 192 qualifiers have been determined, the schools are broken down into 6 classes of 32 teams each, based on their "football enrollment." A school's football enrollment is the larger of these two figures:

The largest 32 schools based on the football enrollment figures are placed in Class 6A, the next largest in Class 5A, and so on. If a tie should occur for the final spot in a particular class, a coin flip is used to break the tie.

Seeding the Playoffs

Once the 32 teams in a particular class are determined, they are seeded manually by the IHSA Office using the following procedure: Starting in 1996, insofar as it is practical, teams will be seeded by a "true seed". Within each class, the seeds are determined by sorting the teams by the same formula used to determine playoff berths:

The No. 1 seed in each class will play the No. 32 seed, and so on. This procedure will work best for Class 5A and 6A, where almost all of the teams come from the Chicago area and geography is not a factor. However, for other classes, it may be necessary to alter some of the pairings to reduce travel time.

Determining the Host Team

In the first round, the higher seed hosts the game. In subsequent rounds, the school that has hosted fewer times during the current playoff series hosts the game. If both teams have hosted an equal number of times, the higher seed hosts the game. In the teams have the same seed (as might occur in the fourth round), the team with the more wins (or more playoff points) hosts the game.

Number of Classes

Playoffs are scheduled for six classes--1A, 2A,3A,4A,5A,6A. There will be six (6) thirty-two (32) team brackets, a total of one hundred ninety- two (192) teams will qualify.

School Enrollment

School enrollment and/or average enrollment of opponents (SEE NOTE) shall determine the class in which each school participates. School enrollments and average enrollment of opponents shall be based on the student enrollment figures reported to the State Board of Education on the fall housing report on September 30,1995. The enrollment for all-boys schools shall be doubled; and for three-year schools one-third of the reported enrollment shall be added to the three-year figure to determine all enrollments on a four-year basis.

NOTE: Average enrollment of opponents will be determined by averaging the enrollments of each school's opponents after dropping the largest and the smallest opponent enrollment.

Dates for Playoffs

The Playoffs shall commence on the Saturday following the completion of the ninth week of the season.

First Round Games -- Saturday, November 2

Second Round Games -- Saturday, November 9

Quarterfinal Games -- Saturday, November 16

Semifinal Games -- Saturday, November 23

Championship Games -- Friday, November 29 (Class 1A,2A,3A,4A) Saturday, November 30 (Class 5A,6A)

Sites, Rankings, Pairings

  1. There shall be six (6) classes containing 32 teams in each. Each class will contain four (4) -8-team brackets determined geographically.
  2. Each 8-team bracket shall be as balanced as possible meaning that the sum total of wins by all 8 teams in each bracket shall be as close to the same as possible. This may require slightly variations in the geographics that have historically been used used as the basis for bracketing.
  3. After determining the 32-team bracket, the teams will be seeded 1 through 32 using record and at-large points as criteria. Where geographically practical, the 32 teams will be placed on the bracket as closely as possible to their seeded position, giving the highest seeded team the best opportunity to host keeping in place the other factors used for hosting. The seeding will not supercede other established criteria for hosting.

a. If teams are tied for seed with the same number of wins and at-large points, the higher seed shall go to the team with the highest regular season conference finish. This will not apply if either ream is independent.

b. If two teams are tied for seed with the same number of and at-large points and have played each other during the regular season, the higher seed shall go to the winner.

4. First Round host schools shall be the bottom of the bracket. The teams are placed on the 8-team bracket to give the highest surviving seed the best chances to host. Bracket placement may be varied by the IHSA Office when any or all of the following conditions are present:

a. Distances to games become excessive, as determined by the IHSA Office.

b. Teams have played during the current season.

c. Teams have repeatedly been assigned to play each other in previous playoff years.

5. After the First Round, the team having hosted the fewest games in the current playoffs, shall be the host for the next round. If both teams have hosted an equal number of games in the current playoffs, the game shall be hosted by the higher seed. If both teams reaching the semifinals have hosted an equal number of times in the current playoffs, the host team will be the highest remaining seed.

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