KSHSAA ends football districts

Zack Sanders pulls in a pass during Free State High School football camp Tuesday, June 2 at FSH.

Starting in 2016, regular-season high school football games will become much more important.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association announced in May that Class 6A and 5A schools no longer will be assigned football districts, beginning in 2016. Instead, football teams will play an eight-game regular season before being split into east and west brackets and seeded 1 through 16 for the ninth game, which will serve as the first round of the postseason.

KSHSAA’s exective board decided Thursday it will use winning percentage, head-to-head record, then wins against teams from 6A as the first set of tiebreakers but will determine the next tiebreaker over the next few months. That’s also the biggest question for most high school football coaches.

“My only concern is, how are they going to do tiebreakers,” Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd asked before KSHSAA’s meeting Thursday. “Once you get your record, if you’re 5-3, and there are five teams that are 5-3, well, it better be a pretty sound tiebreaking system because you could go all the way from playing a 13-seed to a 6-seed. I think you just have to be careful about how you figure that out.”

One of the main tiebreakers in the current three-game district format is the 21-point system, where teams use the point differential from each victory or defeat, up to 21 points.

“Everybody is going to get a chance in the first round, and you’re going to go from there,” Free State High coach Bob Lisher said. “How are they going to seed it? Who knows. There’s always hiccups regarding what they do. But whatever they come up with, we’ll play and keep going.”

For the regular season, the Sunflower League will play six league games, and the other two weeks will be an open schedule, free to play anybody.

“I liked the fact that you can go out and pick people,” Shawnee Mission South coach Brett Oberzan said. “But I know the Sunflower League is one of the best leagues in the state. So it’s tough trying to justify going outside of the league and picking up another team when you have the best right there.”

According to the Wichita Eagle, the higher-seeded team will host postseason games through the semifinals, but gate receipts from first-round playoff games (the ninth game of the season) will be shared between the two schools. The state championship will continue to be at a neutral site.

Kansas started using its district system in 1981, but the new system will prevent top-heavy districts from eliminating some of the strongest teams early, or helping one- or two-win teams advance out of weaker districts.

But until KSHSAA determines the next tiebreaker, coaches will continue to have questions about how successful it will be.

“It just depends on how the state comes up with it,” Lisher said. “If you play somebody that may be not as good as this team, and you beat that not-as-good team, does that take away from your ranking? Does that help your ranking? So it all kind of just depends on how the state is going to come up with it and seed everything.”

But the new playoff system will add to the importance of every regular-season game.

“From now on, every game you’re going to have to hook it up because it’s going to affect the ninth game,” Wedd said. “You lose a couple of close games, and instead of playing a 13- or 12-seed, you’re playing a fifth seed or sixth seed or something like that.”

Below 5A, teams will continue using the district playoff system.