The high school football state playoffs could look a lot different for smaller schools in 2022.
A meeting Thursday of the Colorado High School Activities Association football committee saw several new proposals officially endorsed to be sent to the CHSAA legislative council later this spring.
If approved, the state playoffs for Classes 1-3A as well as 6-man and 8-man football would go from 16-team playoff brackets to 24 teams. The top-eight teams, seeded by the CHSAANow coaches poll, the CHSAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), MaxPreps Rankings and Packard Rankings, would all receive a bye in the first round.
By adding eight more teams to the state playoffs, more athletes would have the chance to experience postseason play.
“All of our student-athletes across the state, regardless of classification size or sport, deserve an opportunity to experience success,” CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright told The Durango Herald. “The work put in (Thursday) by our football committee I believe is a giant step toward creating equity amongst our football programs and providing opportunity for success for more and more of our student-athletes.”
Ignacio High School is a team that would have benefited from a larger playoff field in 2020, though only eight teams made the postseason in every classification because of the COVID-19 reduced season. The Bobcats finished No. 19 in the CHSAA RPI with a 3-2 overall record. In a 24-team playoff format, the Bobcats likely would have made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Adding more teams to the playoffs but providing a first-round bye to the top teams could also create more competitive first-round games. Rather than a No. 1 seed beating up on a No. 16 seed, the No. 16 team would play the No. 15 team in the first round in a more-competitive game.
It also will reward the top-eight teams with a bye week to prepare for the rest of the playoffs.
“It’s going to benefit those teams with good records to get a first-round bye like they do in the NFL,” said David Vogt, head coach of the Class 3A reigning state champion Durango Demons. “You love to get a week off there after a physical end of a league season. You get a chance to get back to basics and the fundamentals in practice for a week and rest bodies.”
All classifications could now play a 10-week regular-season schedule, too. In previous years, Classes 1A-2A and 6-man and 8-man played a nine-week schedule. And with the difference in playoff length, CHSAA’s state championships were spread across three weekends.
With the supported changes, every classification would play its state championship on the same weekend. That would allow CHSAA to consider hosting a state championship weekend at one venue for every classification, as it did during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with great success at the DeRose ThunderBowl Stadium on the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“Diamonds only take shape after being exposed to immense pressure. Often in hard times, we discover good ideas that we can move forward with,” Bright said. “Such is the case in playing football during a global pandemic. Having to move all of our championship games to a single venue provided a glimpse of what future championship weekends may look like in Colorado. The work of the committee aligned our regular season and postseasons amongst all classifications so that, if that opportunity presents itself again in the future, we are more able to move forward if so desired.”
Next year’s state championships are already scheduled so that the 6-man, 8-man and Classes 1A-2A games are played the weekend of Nov. 27 at the ThunderBowl. The Class 3A championship will also be played Dec. 4 at the ThunderBowl.
Classes 4A-5A will play their 2021 championships at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver on the weekend of Dec. 4.
There is potential for the 2022 championships to all be played at one venue if the proposals are approved this spring.
“It was really cool to see the team before us get to celebrate winning a championship and be part of that atmosphere before our game even started this year,” Vogt said. “It was cool to be part of that and have everybody in the state on that same field. When fans are allowed back into games, it will be awesome to have everyone at one place for all the championships.”
CHSAA also aims to add a Class 6A in 2022 for the state’s largest and most competitive programs. According to CHSAANow.com, the goal is to help reduce each classification down to roughly 36 teams down from the low 40s. Enrollment would not be the only factor in placing a team in a higher classification, as teams could be moved up or down depending on the team’s level of play.
“We have inequities in some of our classifications, and this explores ways for us to try to bring more equity across all classifications,” Bright said.