5A football will move to 16-team playoff field, waterfall alignment in 2016

Fairview football practice Flatirons generic

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

LONE TREE — Big changes are ahead for Class 5A football. Beginning with the 2016 season, the classification will move to a 16-team playoff field, a 10-game regular season, and alignment will be set by a waterfall system.

It means moving away from the current 32-team playoff field and nine-game regular season in 5A, as well as a new way of thinking about alignment, which is set right now — for the most part — by geography.

These changes were made by the CHSAA football committee, which met ahead of the start of the All-School Summit at the Denver Marriott South on Monday. They voted to approve the June recommendations of an ad-hoc 5A football committee.

"Big changes, yes," said Mike Krueger, the chair of the football committee, "but it got unanimous support from the committee, and we got a lot of good feedback on the changes from around the state."

"There are a lot of positives to it," Krueger added later. "I know there are going to be hiccups, but at the foundation, it's really good for 5A football."

This latest meeting was the fourth the committee has held since last December. In addition, the group has conducted two direct surveys of member schools, and each committee member has served as a sounding board for input for the rest of state.

At the crux of these changes is a modified Rating Percentage Index (RPI) system, which takes into account a team's winning percentage, the winning percentage of a team's opponents, and the winning percentage of the opponents of a team's opponents.

This is a change from the current Wild Card points system, which determines qualifiers in 5A. (That system will still be used for the 2015 season.)

Already, Class 4A through 6-man has adopted using an RPI to determine postseason qualifiers — and 5A did the same on Monday morning for its 16-team field in 2016. Seven league champions will get automatic bids, and the top nine remaining teams according to the RPI will make the playoffs in 2016.

The RPI is also at the heart of the move to a 16-team playoff field in 5A, as well as the waterfall system. When the football committee met in April, their aim was to standarize the playoff structures in all seven classifications. One glaring difference was the 32-team bracket in 5A.

Since 2006, 5A has been the only class where more than 16 teams made the football playoffs. The change from 32 brings 5A in line with the rest of the classes — all but 6-man, which has an eight-team field, have 16-team tournaments.

But 5A's leagues, as currently aligned, sit unbalanced, and so simply cutting the bracket would not work.

"When we started talking about (moving to a 16-team bracket), we kept hearing, 'We'd go to 16, but the problem is the imbalance of the leagues,'" Krueger said.

The waterfall alignment will balance the leagues, and the idea has been well received around the state.

To set the waterfall alignment, teams will be ranked based upon their two-year average in the RPI. The top seven teams in that ranking will each be placed into seven separate leagues. From there, teams will be snaked into leagues. So, No. 8 will be placed into the same league as No. 7; No. 9 will be with No. 6; No. 10 with No. 5, and so on — until all teams are placed into a league.

The expectation is that 5A will have 42 teams in the 2016-18 cycle, and so each league will have six teams.

This waterfall system was made possible due to the close geographic proximity within 5A. Once realignment for the 2016-18 cycle is finalized this November, every school in 5A will be along the I-25 corridor — making the longest drive from one school to another roughly two hours.

"You were going to travel for non-conference, anyway," Krueger said. "So that's just now a conference game, and I can still play my cross-town rival, but it's just a non-conference game. So people may say, 'Travel, travel, travel.' The reality is that it's the same amount of travel, and it could even possibly be less."

On Tuesday at the All-School Summit, athletic directors will break into classifications to talk about league alignment in football for 6-man through 4A.