Controversial high school football playoff format won’t change until 2023

·3 min read

After seeking feedback from its member schools about its controversial football playoff format, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Board of Control on Wednesday agreed to revert the first two rounds of the playoffs to their more traditional configuration beginning with the 2023 season.

Since 2019, the state’s six football classes have competed in “intra-district” playoffs that pitted district foes against each other over the first two weeks of the postseason for the right to advance, a departure from tradition, which previously saw teams matched up against foes from neighboring or “sister” districts at those stages.

The move comes after lobbying from the Kentucky Football Coaches Association, which unsuccessfully fought the change when it was implemented, and mounted a more concerted effort to derail it this year. The KFCA urged the KHSAA to survey its membership about the format change and the Board of Control agreed to do so at its previous meeting.

The KHSAA’s survey results showed 109 schools favored going back to the sister district format, 58 schools wished to keep intra-district play and 58 schools did not respond. As a percentage of the overall, 48 percent of football schools wanted a change. As a percentage of those responding, 65 percent of schools wanted a change.

KFCA President David Buchanan, head coach at Mercer County, expressed dismay that intra-district playoffs will be around for two more seasons. The KFCA’s own poll of its membership, made public in February, showed 148 of its 193 responding members in favor of a change.

“I’m very disappointed that the Board of Control would not put in place what 77 percent of the coaches and 65 percent of the administrators said they wanted to do, immediately,” Buchanan said. “They said you’re going to have to wait two years. I could not disagree more. But that’s what’s happened, and that’s where we are.”

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett presented the issue to the board during its work session as a motion to accept the survey results and go “with what the two-thirds want.” He did not offer guidance on when to implement the change, leaving that to the board.

“As a reminder, the initiative to play intra-district was a board initiative. The schools as a collective body have not expressed that preference before,” Tackett said.

The motion to implement the change beginning in 2023 was approved 9-6. The determination to not implement until 2023 came as board members expressed a desire to keep the current structure in place for the current football alignment. The KHSAA adjusts its football structure every four years.

Proponents argued the intra-distict format saved on travel and increased interest in district rivalries in early playoff rounds. Opponents complained the format created competitive disadvantages in that district teams have to deal with potential payback games against bitter district rivals too early in the postseason and many top-rated teams who normally advance to later rounds faced elimination too soon.

Intra-district play created high stakes district championships that sometimes pitted two of the highest rated teams in a class against each other in just Week 2 of the playoffs, as was the case in 2019 when No. 1 Lexington Christian and No. 2 Somerset squared off. The Briar Jumpers survived a close game and eventually won the Class 2A state title.