THE EARLY LEAD: How the new districts should have really played out
By BRANDON HURLEY
Even as spring bears down upon us, football remains a hot button issue.
Ok, giving credit where it’s due, the Iowa High School Athletic Association can’t always nail everything. Personally, I tend to side with the organization and don’t give them as much grief as others do. They are tasked with quite a bit, some times there are mistakes.
The most telling reason as to why I decided to re-align Greene County’s district was because of travel. If this grouping goes beyond the one-year scheduling circle (which I imagine it will), the Rams will not have a single road trip less than shorter than an hour and 20 minutes drive, while three of their opponents will be more than two hours away. Des Moines Christian and Atlantic are right around 80 minutes one way, while Red Oak, Shenandoah and Clarinda are each more than two hours from Jefferson.
For complete transparency’s sake, this column in no way is a forceful criticism of the decisions the IHSAA has made regarding the 2020 football districts. It’s more so a wish-list for myself, how I would envision the best possible district for Greene County.
I stuck with the IHSAA’s criteria of enrollment and left the allotted teams in Class 2A alone – which if you were curious, there are 54 teams in Greene County’s class spread across nine different districts.
I also left the 16 team playoff qualifiers alone as well, though I do feel there is room for maybe a 24-team qualifier. That’s a story for another day, though you could easily fold the 54 teams into eight districts with each district champion rewarded with a first round bye. I firmly believe 32 playoff qualifiers would be too many, while 16 can often be too little. And don’t hit me with the argument how every other high school sport allows all teams to qualify for the postseason. That’s horse crap – a 1-8 or winless school does not deserve a shot at post season success. I’m not even remotely sorry for that. A playoff qualification needs to be earned, not given.
The below district would be a tad bit more competitive, and more feasible, as Red Oak is in the midst of a 12-game losing streak while Shenandoah has only won two games in the last two seasons combined. Here’s the new district I drew up:
Des Moines Christian
Finding a sixth team that was reasonably located in the same geographic landscape as Greene County was tough. I’ll give the IHSAA some leniency here and agree with them on one thing – it’s pretty difficult to group together more than three 2A schools based on location, especially in central Iowa. All the teams are fairly spread out across the state. There’s no perfect options, and it hurts that Kuemper Catholic (Carroll), Southeast Valley (Gowrie) and South Hamilton (Jewell) all dropping to 1A next year, things become a bit-muddier as far as playing options go. A slew of other area teams are also firmly planted in Class 1A, including AC/GC, Panorama, Woodward-Granger, West Central Valley and Van Meter. Each of those five programs would fit quite naturally into Greene County’s district, but unfortunately, recent enrollment numbers make that impossible. So, this is where we are left with, making at least two hour round trips to each school. It’s still better than the potential for three four hour round trips. Two of said teams - Saydel and Roland-Story - are Heart of Iowa Conference members, while Des Moines Christian, Iowa Falls-Alden and West Marshall are natural, if not unconventional rivals. Plus, they are all school districts that will likely remain the same enrollment wise.
Though, I mentioned a competitive balance, I believe this is a reasonable grouping as Greene County regains its footing and ushers in a new wave of athletes. Saydel went winless a year ago. Got to have some competitive imbalance, don’t ya think? Roland-Story won just a single game last fall. When you have to replace five all state athletes in addition to a handful of the school districts greatest athletes ever, you’re going to have a bit of an adjustment. I like this fictional district for travel sake and competitiveness, though the actual 2020 district won’t be too bad for actual competition, either.
In the end, I think the IHSAA did a reasonable enough job and it could lead to some solid things for a young Rams program and it’s fairly young coaching staff.