MISSOULA — In the past, the top eight Class AA football teams advanced to the playoffs, but in 2019 it will look different. With Belgrade coming up from Class A, there will be an uneven 15 teams in the class.
So instead of the top eight, all 15 teams will make the playoffs, with the teams being seeded in Eastern AA and Western AA conferences. The first round will feature cross-conference games with the West's No. 1 seed earning a first-round bye.
“I’ve always been a proponent of getting the AA back to conferences, so you’re playing for two things -- a conference title, and everyone goes to the playoffs, then you’re working to get a high placing. It’s going to be an interesting year, very interesting year. Good football players and still good coaches in the AA, so we’ll see what happens,” said Great Falls head coach Mark Samson.
“It will be different. Things will change with the addition of those two schools. It’s exciting to have an actual playoff game to get into the playoffs. It will be fun,” said Great Falls CMR head coach Gary Lowry.
“I’ve probably been the most vocal about the format, I don’t like it. I think you should earn your way in. I get it, it’s an odd year with 15 teams. Hopefully maybe we can learn from it and move forward," said Missoula Big Sky coach Matt Johnson.
Not only will 2019 allow all teams to make the playoffs, but every team will advance in 2020, as well, when Bozeman Gallatin joins the picture and makes it an even 16.
“People talking about watering down the competition, I don’t think it’s going to be there. Football is such a competitive game that the landscape, I think it’s a parity league, there’s going to be a lot of really good football teams, and that’s exciting because that means everybody’s in the hunt,” said Missoula Sentinel coach Dane Oliver.
In 2021, Class AA administrators will reassess the playoff picture and decide where to go from there.
“I look at it like, you know, we didn’t deserve it last year. For us to drive to Billings to play the No. 1 team again, what do we benefit from that? How does that help my program? We’ll see how it works out. I think it’s easy to say when you’re in the top tier, but when you’re in the bottom tier it can be another story. We’ll see,” said Johnson.