Last updated on October 17, 2021
There are 481 IHSA member schools playing 11-man varsity football in 2019. (An additional 24 schools are playing 8-man football.) In the Chicago Public League, 31 teams play in "Chicago" divisions that are not eligible for the IHSA playoffs. That leaves a total of 450 eligible teams statewide. Of these, 256 (just over half) will be selected for the playoffs.
The boys football playoffs are the only IHSA tournament for which teams qualify on the basis of their regular-season records. The following steps are used to determine which teams receive a playoff berth and how the playoff teams are paired.
The first step is to select the 256 playoff teams. The process proceeds as follows:
of All Opponents
In practice, teams with 9, 8, 7, and 6 wins will always qualify for the playoffs. Teams with 5 wins are "on the bubble," and the tie is broken by the number of playoff points (the combined wins of all opponents).
The chart below shows the how the at-large cutoff was determined for the 256-team field over the past several years.
Teams with 6 or more wins
|Non-Champions with 5 Wins||Tie-Breaker
|2020||Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic|
*In 2019, the number of teams with 6 wins and the tie-breaker were affected by games canceled because of the Chicago teacher's strike.
After the 256 qualifiers have been determined, the schools are broken down into 8 classes of 32 teams each, based on the school's classification enrollment (from last year's report to the Illinois State Board of Education, adjusted by the 1.65 multiplier where applicable).
The largest 32 schools based on the official enrollment figures are placed in Class 8A, the next largest in Class 7A, and so on down to Class 1A. If a tie should occur for the final spot in a particular class, a coin flip is used to break the tie.
The following schools are affected by the Success Adjustment and, if they qualify for the playoffs, will be assigned to the designated class in 2021:
The following schools have elected to "play up" to a different class in 2021 and 2022: Elmhurst (IC Catholic) (3A), Joliet (Catholic Academy) (4A), East St. Louis (Sr.) (6A), Wilmette (Loyola Academy) (8A).
It is important to remember that a school's classification is not determined until the 256-team field has been selected on the final day of the season. The classes used in the Associated Press polls are a best guess at the final determinations, but they are unofficial and can be misleading. The fact that the AP ranks a school all season in a certain class has no bearing on the school's ultimate classification in the state playoffs. This can be determined only at season's end, after the entire 256-team field is selected.
The chart below shows the enrollment cutoffs for the 256-team field. The multiplier on non-boundaried schools was implemented in 2005. Starting in 2011, any school that had not won a playoff football game in the past six years received an automatic waiver from the multiplier. Starting in 2015, this window was reduced to four years, increasing the number of schools with waivers. Starting in 2019, the window was further reduced to two years.
|2009||up to 314||315-438||440-612||613-1013||1014-1453||1454-1967||1968-2544||2545-above|
|2010||up to 326||327-453||454-613||614-988||989-1548||1549-2020||2021-2603||2604-above|
|2011||up to 299||300-430||431-599||600-896||897-1346||1347-1876||1877-2489||2490-above|
|2012||up to 310||311-418||419-570||571-900||901-1346||1347-1876||1877-2383||2384-above|
|2013||up to 323||324-429||430-604||605-906||907-1369||1370-1964||1965-2397||2398-above|
|2014||up to 308||309-395||396-528||529-817||818-1271||1272-1693||1694-2226||2227-above|
|2015||up to 312||313-407||408-547||548-822||823-1287||1288-1797||1798-2338||2339-above|
|2016||up to 305||306-382||383-528||529-803||804-1307||1308-1787||1788-2277||2278-above|
|2017||up to 313||314-393||394-548||549-910||911-1392||1393-1888||1889-2302||2303-above|
|2018||up to 292||293-399||400-561||562-766||767-1277||1278-1792||1793-2263||2264-above|
|2019||up to 297||298-405||406-530||531-769||770-1238||1238.5-1735||1736-2216||2217-above|
Once the 32 teams in a particular class are determined, the teams in Class 1A through 6A are grouped by the IHSA Office into two halves of 16 teams each, based on the general location of the schools within that class. In Class 7A and 8A, the teams are not grouped.
Then the seeds are determined by sorting the teams by some of the factors used to determine playoff berths:
If two or more teams are tied for a particular seed, the following tiebreakers are applied:
Then the teams are paired according to a standard bracket. In a 16-team field, the pairings are #1 vs. #16, #2 vs. #15, etc. In a 32-team field, the pairings are #1 vs. #32, #2 vs. #31, etc.
A school's ranking in the Associated Press poll has no bearing on its seed in the IHSA Football Playoffs. The only criteria used to seed the teams are those mentioned above.
In the first round, the higher seed hosts the game. In subsequent rounds, the school that has hosted fewer times during the current playoff series hosts the game. If both teams have hosted an equal number of times, the higher seed hosts.
When circumstances warrant, a site other than the designated host school's field may be requested by either school and may be used subject to the approval of the IHSA Board of Directors and the host school.
The game must be played on Saturday, unless both schools agree to play the game on Friday. Friday games must not be scheduled during school hours. Saturday games must start between 1 pm and 7 pm. The schools must agree on the starting time of the game. If they cannot come to an agreement, the IHSA Office will set the starting time.
For state championship games played played at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, the home team is from the "northern bracket" (top bracket) and occupies the west grandstand. For state championship games played played at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, the home team is from the "southern bracket" (bottom bracket) and occupies the west grandstand.