A scan of the new Class A football playoffs qualifying system

Some good, winning teams not qualifying for the state playoffs while a couple of struggling ones with below .500 records advanced provided the impetus.

Montana’s Class A high schools decided their football playoffs needed to be tweaked. Deserving teams were being left out of the tournament.

Consequently, the enrollment quorum elected to adopt a bonus points system, similar to one having been experimented with and implemented successfully by the Class B programs for about half of a decade.

Interest seems to be mounting, though not everyone has deciphered what to watch yet as the variables shake out and define. Coaches will tell you the formula is a simple one to relay to the players: “Keep winning and you’ll make the playoffs.”

A number of fans, however, don’t seem to be aware of the changes, nor what the differences are to be come playoff time in little more than two weeks.

The old system was simple. First, when Class A most recently, in the early 2000s, went to a four-division alignment, the football playoffs were designed for an eight-team bracket. Each conference sent its top two teams. There were no byes awarded.

The single-elimination format continued on the only other adjustment, except for school reclassifications, to be welcomed. It was an expansion to 12 teams with each division advancing its top three teams to the tournament. The No. 1 teams in each division was awarded a first-round bye. The latter system was in play through 2014.

The Class A of the early 2000s, of course, was a 24-team alignment with six teams in each of the four conferences. It grew for a short time to 25 when Northwestern A was a seven-team membership. Now, it is a four-team set-up.

The classification had since lost not only Bigfork, Eureka, Ronan and Libby from Northwestern A, but also Anaconda from the Central A and Colstrip from the Eastern A. Redistricting adjustments sent Frenchtown from Southwestern A to the Northwest after being moved in from Class B, Butte Central to the Central A from the Southwest and then back to the Southwestern A from the Central, and Laurel to the Eastern A from the Central is searches for competitive, numbers and travel balance.

Last season saw two winning programs — Corvallis and Sidney — stay home for the postseason as No. 4 finishers in their respective Southwestern A and Eastern A divisions. Meanwhile, Frenchtown advanced with a losing record and third-place finish in the Northwestern A, and Havre did likewise in the Central A.

To rectify, Class A administrators met and, with Montana High School Association approval, erased the automatic advancement to postseason for third-place teams. The plan was effected this year.

The top two teams in each of the four divisions will still go on to the playoffs with the Nos. 1 retaining byes. Then, according to the points system adopted to define qualifiers, the next two teams from the combined Eastern A and Central A divisions will fill two spots. The remaining two berths will go to the next two teams in the point standings regarding the Northwestern A and Southwestern A teams.

Key is that some conferences may send four teams on to the playoffs while others might move only two into the bracket. Or, they may still move three, all depending on how the points are piled at the end. If a fourth-place team does advance to the playoff field, it will take the slot opened by the non-qualification of a third-place team in its Central/East or Northwestern/Southwestern region. To use last year’s field for example, Sidney would have replaced Havre, and Corvallis would have been in the slot that went to Frenchtown under the new plan.

Under the point system, every game a Class A team plays against another counts in the advancement totals. The averages will determine the final standings as some teams play a nine-game schedule and others play eight times. Also, there are a small number of games played by Class A against a Class B or out-of-state opponent that don’t count in the totals.

Lewistown’s Jerry Feller has taken on the bookkeeping task of tracking the points for each of the 20 Class A football teams.

The formula is as follows:

  1. 45 points for a win.
  2. 25 points for a loss.
  3. Each team will receive three bonus points for each of its opponents during the season. Opponents’ points are tabulated each week even though your school has not yet played that opponent. Schools do not receive bonus points for opponents’ wins over their schedule.
  4. Each team’s power ranking will be determined by dividing the total number of points by its total number of games played.
  5. One additional point will be added to the final point average for an undefeated season.
  6. Point average for the season is computed to the nearest .000.
  7. If teams should be tied for the qualifying spot because of identical point averages, then the tie will be broken by applying the following criteria in the order listed. A — If tied teams played during the season, the winner of that game qualifies. B — The undefeated team shall qualify. C — Teams with the most wins will qualify. D — If tied teams played a common opponent during the season and if one team won and one team lost, the winning team shall qualify. E — The average of the tying teams’ opponents’ power points. F — Coin flip conducted by MHSA executive director.”

Therefore the power rankings heading into this weekend of Class A football follow:

Dillon 36.750, Miles City 35.250, Whitefish 34.444, Hamilton 33.875, Billings Central 33.500, Butte Central 33.444, Laurel 32.375, Havre 30.889, Polson 30.000, Frenchtown 29.125, Sidney 28.143, Columbia Falls 27.714, Hardin 26.000, Stevensville 25.889, Belgrade 25.625, Lewistown 24.750, Glendive 23.571, Corvallis 23.125, Browning 22.000, Livingston 19.333.

So, if the regular season had already ended, the field of playoff teams would be Dillon, Miles City, Whitefish, Hamilton, Billings Central, Butte Central, Laurel, Havre, Polson, Frenchtown, Sidney and Belgrade if power point standings correlated equally to conference standings.

However, the regular season hasn’t ended. A lot of good high school football remains on the 2015 schedules before kicking off the playoffs.

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