An MHSAA Football Playoff Primer
Back to News
August 25, 1999
Contact: John Johnson or Andy Frushour
517.332.5046 or www.mhsaa.com
Heading into the 1999 football season, a lot of changes are
in store for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Football
Playoffs. When the new playoff plan was approved in December
of 1999, an initial Playoff Primer was published. The following
is an updated primer, with a question and answer summary of those
Question -- Why did the Association expand
Answer -- In a survey in the Spring of 1998 of MHSAA member schools,
73 percent favored some type of expansion of the playoffs beyond
the 128-team tournament that has been in place since 1990. The
MHSAA Representative Council, acting on that information, voted
in May to expand the playoffs, and directed the Association staff
to develop a plan, bring that information back to the Representative
Council at its December meeting for action.
Why didn't the Association simply double the number of teams
and leave the current playoff operation in place?
Doubling the number of teams would not have eliminated the problem
of some 8-1 and many 7-2 schools missing the playoffs; and would
have greatly increased the number of 4-5 and 3-6 teams in the
But are 7-2 and 6-3 teams truly playoff worthy?
Yes. One champion in the 1998 tournament was 6-3 at the end of
the regular season. One of the major criticisms of the previous
system was that you wouldn't make the playoffs with a loss or
two. This way, a team that finishes strong, or that was missing
a key player for a game or two, could still make the playoffs.
What will happen to Classes A, B, C and D?
The class structure will still be utilized to accumulate playoff
points. You will still receive 80 points for defeating a Class
A school, 64 for Class B, 48 for Class C and 32 for Class D;
and the bonus-point structure will remain the same. Classes will
continue to be used by media organizations for their regular-season
polls and postseason all-state teams.
What happens with forfeits?
Since win-loss total is now the primary means of qualifying for
the tournament, the wins accrued by forfeit will be counted.
All playoff and bonus points will be awarded. In the past, a
forfeit was recognized as a game not played.
Then how would teams be classified for the tournament and
assigned to regions?
Once the regular season is over and 256 qualifiers are known,
they would be ranked by enrollment, and divided into eight divisions
of 32 schools each. Once the 32 schools are known in each division,
they would be drawn into four regions of 8 teams, and then each
region would be drawn into two districts of four teams. As opposed
to previous years, some schools would not absolutely know what
enrollment division or region they would fall into for tournament
play until after the regular season is completed.
Aren't bigger schools going to take up most of the playoff
No. In studying past years computer rankings, it was found that
a proportionate number of teams from each class would make the
playoffs. It's important to remember that under the previous
system, a disproportionate of teams from Class D, which has half
the football schools of Classes A, B and C, made the tournament.
But haven't some schools tried to rearrange schedules to guarantee
the minimum number of wins to play in the tournament?
Since the plan was approved by the Representative Council in
December, that hasn't been the case. Member schools have realized
that "loading up" a schedule with easier or smaller
schools may actually hurt a team by lowering its playoff point
With win-loss records replacing playoff point averages as
the primary means of getting into the tournament, why are they
Playoff point averages will still affect the playoffs in the
1. Additional qualifiers for the tournament will be included
based on their playoff point averages. If 256 schools do not
qualify for the playoffs by win total, those 5-4 teams playing
9-game schedules, and those 4-4 or 4-3 teams playing 8 games
or fewer with the highest playoff point averages will qualify.
2. If more than 256 schools qualify for the playoffs by win total,
those schools with the lowest playoff point totals, regardless
of their win-loss record, will be dropped from the field.
3. If two or more qualifying teams have the same enrollment and
fall on a division break point after the 256 schools for the
playoffs have been determined, the school with the higher playoff
point average will play in the higher enrollment division. For
example, if two schools with 1,250 students qualifying for the
playoffs were the 32nd and 33rd teams in the enrollment spectrum,
falling on the break between Divisions 1 and 2, the team with
the higher playoff average would be assigned to the Division
4. Once teams are drawn into Regions and then Districts, playoff
point averages will be used to determine the home field for the
first three rounds of the tournament. For District play, the
traditional formula of the team with the highest playoff average
hosting the team with the lowest average, and the team with the
second highest average hosting the third place team will be utilized;
with the District final game being played at the surviving team
with the highest average. For the Regional final, the team with
the higher playoff average of the 2 District winners will host.
How many 6 and 5 win teams are there in a given year?
Research indicates that in over the past 10 years, about 225
schools had 6 wins. In 1997, three additional teams with 8 game
schedules won 5 games and would have qualified by win total.
Explain again how the field would be filled out if fewer than
256 teams qualify by win total.
Let's say, for example, that 232 schools qualify by win total.
To determine the additional 24 qualifiers, the top 6 playoff
point averages of the remaining teams in each of Classes A, B,
C and D, would be inserted into the field. An equal number of
schools from each class would be added, in the A, B, C, D order.
Then the reverse is true if more than 256 teams qualify by
Almost. If 260 teams would qualify by win total, then the team
with the lower playoff point average from each of Class A, B,
C and D would not qualify for the playoffs. However, the subtraction
order would be D,C, B, A.
There have been a number of "blowouts" in the tournament
in the past. Won't this increase the possibility of that happening?
To have doubled the number of teams would have greatly increased
the number of mismatches. However, eliminating teams with losing
records reduces the chances of lopsided games.
Why are there different win qualifying
standards for teams playing nine and eight-game schedules?
Some teams have difficulty obtaining nine and eight game schedules
on an annual basis. Some schools, to accommodate their local
climate, may not wish to begin their regular season earlier.
This gives schools an approximately equal chance of qualifying
for the playoffs regardless of the number of games they wish
to play. In 1997, only 11 schools had eight-game schedules; in
1998, 19 schools played fewer than nine games; and in 1999 that
number is 30.
What is the impact on the calendar for a school playing a
nine-game regular-season schedule?
Those schools would play two games before Labor Day in five out
of seven years. They would also begin practice two days earlier
in those years.
How will people be able to keep track of their team's playoff
progress during the regular season?
Beginning the evening of September 21, and on every Tuesday prior
to the final game of the regular season, the MHSAA will release
a list of those teams with four or more victories, listed in
enrollment order, and their playoff point averages. This list
will be available on the MHSAA Web Site, and also distributed
to media outlets. As in past years, schools should review the
list carefully, and report possible errors to the MHSAA office.
What happens on Selection Sunday, October 24?
That morning, the five reporting agents, newspaper writers from
around the state, will report that weekend's results to the MHSAA
to be input into the computer. Reports will then be generated
listing schools by enrollment which are apparent qualifiers by
win total; and a list of schools, those with 5-4, 4-4 or 4-3
records, which may be potential qualifiers. Those reports will
be available for member schools to review for a brief period
of time and for schools to report any potential errors to the
After those reports have been reviewed by schools and verified,
the field of 256 schools will be finalized, then drawn into 8
divisions of 32 schools each. The qualifiers in each division
will be plotted on a map, then drawn into regions of 8 teams
each and those regions drawn into 2 districts of 4 teams each
Once the districts are set, playoff point averages will be used
to determine pairings. Geographic pairings will continue to be
used in Region 1, the northernmost region, if the schools in
both pairings are located more 200 or more miles apart. Brackets
will be drawn and finalized.
How will the pairings be announced?
The pairings will be announced in a live television program,
produced by the MHSAA, appearing on FOX Sports Net Detroit, from
6 to 7 p.m. (EDT) that day. Shortly after the announcement of
the pairings on the Selection Sunday Show, the information will
be posted to the MHSAA and FOX Sports Net Detroit Web Sites,
and distributed to the media. Only pairings will be announced
on Sunday. Game days and times will be posted to the MHSAA Web
Site as the information is provided to the MHSAA office by member
In the past, the announced pairings have been "tentative"
until Wednesday afternoon. Will that continue to be the case?
No. Once the pairings are announced on the Selection Sunday Show,
they are final. If it is discovered after that time that a qualifying
team had used an ineligible player during the regular season,
that team would be eliminated from the playoffs, but no team
would replace it, and its scheduled pre-district opponent would
receive a bye. If an error in reporting a score or record is
discovered, a team may be eliminated, but no replacement or rearrangement
of teams will occur.
Why isn't it possible to simply move a replacement team into
In past years, teams were assigned to classes and regions before
the season started. If a replacement was necessary, it was easy
to move a team up in the regional playoff rankings. Because enrollment
is now used as the primary means of qualifying for the playoffs,
inserting a team into the field could rearrange not just a district
or region, but literally the entire playoff field.
How did the Association develop the plan?
After 73 percent of MHSAA member schools indicated in a survey
in the Spring of 1998 that they wished Football Playoff expansion,
the Representative Council of the Association, its legislative
body, went on record as favoring expansion and directed the MHSAA
staff to develop and present a plan. Information was presented
to a group of school administrators and coaches in June of that
year, and the plan was further refined over the summer in presentations
to athletic directors, high school principals and football coaches.
During the fall, the plan was presented to school administrators
at the MHSAA's annual Update meeting series. A survey of football
playing schools following the Update series was taken, and 91
percent of the schools responding indicated they favored the
plan, and 85 percent wished to see implementation in 1999. The
Representative Council approved the plan in December of 1998.