Simple Math - Why the Indiana system work for Kentucky

"Watered down", "blowouts", "left out" are all terms that arise when discussing the current structure of Kentucky football classes, districts, region and playoff system at this time of year. The current structure and system uses districts made of 4 to 7 teams where the top 4 district teams advance to the a five week playoff where six state champions are crowned. The current structure and system allows for 192 of the current 222 teams to advance into the post season. The current system is currently working as viewed from most ADs, coaches and principles in the last two surveys done by KHSAA. But it still brings a barrage of complaints at this time of year.

The current Kentucky system drawbacks

What are the drawbacks of the current setup and playoff system? First is the impact of 6 independent classes. Though this leads to naming two more state champions each year and getting more teams into a five week playoff structure it does have a drawback that has impact both during the regular season and in post season. That impact is much more travel time for teams. Its simple math, more classes means more geographically dispersed districts and paired regions. The more geographically dispersed districts and regions are the more travel there is for teams. Students spend more time on buses for away district games and during the playoffs. Also, schools spend more on transportation due to this impact. At playoff time the travel times and associated school district cost increase. First, second and third round playoff travel times can easily exceed three hours one way and six hours round trip for many schools. Regardless of the issue of how six classes may "water down" the playoffs the mathematical fact is that time and cost are increased under the six class system.

In the current playoff system some teams are left out. 30 teams fail to make the playoffs. And with the current structure of classes 0-10 teams can and do make the playoffs, while 4-6 teams sit out. Mathematically, this does not seem appropriate. The first weekend has been deemed "Blow Out Weekend" by some. The seeding structure leads to this. While there are plenty of exciting games, many are non-competitive.

The Indiana system

The Indiana football structure is made of five classes, each with eight sections that have seven or eight teams. The sections play against each other in the regular season and then go into a Section Championship tournament at the end of the season. All teams are in the tournament and the brackets are determined via blind draw. This is a 3 week tournament. After that the Section champions go into a state championship tournament with eight teams in each class competing for the state title. Thus, this is a 3 week tournament.

The Indiana structure is similar to the Kentucky structure except that instead of districts that are paired into regions the Indiana system uses the section structure putting more teams into the lowest level grouping. Sections in Indiana basically map to Kentucky's regions.

Why it works in Kentucky - mathematically

Applying the Indiana structure and system would require three major changes as compared to the current set-up. First, go back to four classes at the highest level and implement sections at the lowest level. Finally the post season would go to six weeks. Adding one week as compared to the current structure. All of these are changes that many would take exception to. But the structure and system could easily, from a purely mathematical view, would work and work well for Kentucky high school football.

If the structure and system were adopted Kentucky would go back to 4 classes. There are currently 222 schools playing football based on the latest KHSAA enrollment analysis. Using the 222 number there would be two classes with 55 schools and two with 56. There would be eight sections in each class. Sections would be made up mostly of 7 teams with two sections in the classes with 55 teams having only 6 teams. There would be no 8 team sections! There would only be sections with 8 teams if the number of schools playing football was 225 or more.

The lack of eight team sections is a key variation that would allow Kentucky to use seeding to fill the brackets instead of using a blind draw as Indiana does. Indiana's blind draw basically discounts the regular season results. Seeding based on regular season results provides for a reward for Section regular season champions and give meaning to the regular season.

The most common bracketing would give the Section champion a bye in the first week and then pair them against the winner of the two lowest seeds (#6 and #7) in week two. With a bye in the first week and a game against one of the two lowest finishers the path to the Section Championship game would be a fairly easy one for Sectional Champion. This would be a reasonable reward for winning the 'Regular Season Section Championship'. The other bracket would be #2 vs. #5 and #3 vs. #4 on the first weekend. For sections with six teams (only 2 in the state) both #1 and #2 get byes the first week. The #1 seeds gets the winner of the 4/5 game. The #2 seeds gets the winner of the 3/6 game.

With the bracketing above you would get more competitive games in the first week while giving lower echelon schools a chance to win a post season game instead of just being a sacrificial lamb the first week or miss the post season entirely. Would they face a stern challenge with a possible 'blowout' in week 2? Yes, but at least they have a chance to have a post season accomplishment to build on before that happens. Obviously, the other side of the bracket would provide some more competitive games starting in week one just as the 2 vs 3 games do today under the current system.

After the three week Section tournaments the eight Section Champions go onto the State tournament. Pair, blind draw, regional approaches would all work for this level.

Acknowledging the three main 'negative' factors above it is fact that Indiana system could work well in Kentucky. It can even be improved by eliminating the blind draw and going to seeded brackets. If, and its a big if, Kentucky revamps its structure and playoff system it should give a close look at this structure and system. The advantages would be a) more competitive games on the whole, b) all the schools get a chance to participate in the post season and finally c) there would be less travel and cost for the schools. These factor alone probably are not enough to convince most to change the current set-up. But if there is major change in the future this set-up should be given a good look.