THE EARLY LEAD: Iowa’s football changes - the good and the bad
By BRANDON HURLEY
This isn’t the answer.
While change is mostly good, the latest high school football alterations certainly caused quite a stir.
What happened to working for a reward?
The Iowa High School Athletic Association dropped a bit of significant news last week, and it has me more than a bit rattled.
The entity approved an addition of a seventh high school football class, ushering in a Class 5A for the 2021 fall season. In a state with such little overall population and a wide smattering of rural school districts, I don’t necessarily think this is the right play. There are other ways around it, which I’ll get to in a little bit.
Classes 3A-5A will each be home to 36 school districts, with 48 teams each in Class 2A and 1A. Class A will be comprised of the state’s remaining 11-player schools while eight-player will remain relatively the same. The state’s largest three classes will allow 16-playoff qualifiers while Classes A-2A 2A will welcome an astonishing 32 playoff teams.
The IHSAA released a statement on why they added a class. “(Added) an 11-player group to reduce the disparity in enrollment in the IHSAA’s largest class of football, and to increase the number of participating teams and student-athletes in the postseason.”
So what does this mean?
A 32-team playoff system has never worked. Some teams happen to get left out. We don’t need a system that rewards football teams for simply taking the field. I know, I may sound a little angry coming from a person who never played competitive high school football, but I have my reasons why I dislike this change. Yes, competitive balance needed to be restored in the top two classes, but I’m not entirely sure this is the solution.
I don’t necessarily understand why there needs to be more playoff teams or why Classes 3A-5A needed to be evened out at 36 teams. I believe it will eventually water down the competition. Expanding the playoffs so 32 out of 48 teams qualify in Class 2A and 1A is a little bonkers as well.
I can hear the defense now. “Our team deserved to make the playoffs, but look at our district!”
Save it. Sometimes the schedule and district groupings break down in a way that good teams are left on the outside. The best and most efficient route to the playoffs is by beating the teams on the schedule. A majority of the time, the best team prevails, especially on the gridiron. There rarely are fluke performances in football.
On the flip side, occasionally awful districts, because of the rules that are in place, will get several undeserving teams in, which leads to massively lopsided first round match ups. I wouldn’t have such an issue with an expanded playoff system if the state would actually try to create a new and interesting opening round state instead of packing it full of early season rematches.
As a reporter, I did not appreciate seeing a repeat of Greene County and Red Oak in last year’s playoffs. That type of scenario is not fair for either team, and it happens more than I’d like. If the state and the coaches want to give more teams a chance, why can’t the playoffs jump up to 24 instead of an unreasonable field of 32?
Others my harp on the inconsistency compared to most other high school sports, in which all teams, regardless of record, get their shot at the postseason. I’ve never been a fan of that - you shouldn’t get a second chance because you underperformed during the regular season. Give teams an incentive to put in the work, don’t let them glide into the playoffs. This isn’t preschool.
Interestingly enough, Greene County may have a tougher time reaching the playoffs next fall and in the immediate future. Their current enrollment numbers threaten a move back to Class 3A, which isn’t as dire a move as it was a few years prior.
As of the 2020-21 enrollment numbers, grades 9-11, Greene County, combined with Paton-Churdan’s enrollment, would flirt with being placed in the newly revamped Class 3A. The Rams had spent the last three seasons in a fairly robust Class 2A, qualifying for the playoffs each of those years. This new format puts that recent run in jeopardy, perhaps placing Greene County as one of the smallest schools in Class 3A. Thankfully, the newest version of Class 3A would be much smaller than usual and have less of an extreme talent gap from top to bottom. Cedar Rapids Xavier, Dallas Center-Grimes, Norwalk and Pella have dominated the top of that league for years. These schools would likely join Class 4A. While the new-look 3A would even out a little better, there still are a number of tradition-heavy programs that remain, such as Davenport Assumption, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Harlan and Solon.
But, even though Class 3A-5A will have only 16 playoff teams, tightening each grouping to only 36 teams theoretically makes the regular season less important. With only 20 teams left out, a below average team or two is likely to sneak in. I don’t necessarily understand how or why the state landed on those total numbers and why they needed to be so even across the board.
A CHANGE THAT WASN’T MADE
What drives me most bonkers is the athletic association’s refusal to consider a provision regulate private schools in some form. The issues concerning the unfair advantage for private schools in Class 1A, 2A and eight-player would take up a whole column in itself, the Newton Daily News uncovered quite a bombshell in relation to these concerns. The IHSAA did not attempt to address a growing gap in talent - both champions in Iowa’s smallest classifications (eight-player and A) - were private schools. Cedar Rapids Xavier has dominated Class 3A for quite some time while Western Christian has been a force in Class 2A as well as Regina in A (which is crazy in its own right). Something needs to be done, but the state refused touch this subject because Iowa Department of Education told them to “stay away,” according to the Newton Daily News. This is just utter blasphemy, and we as a population of high school sports-loving psychos should have grave concern from this.
Another change, which I actually approve of, is a shortened regular season for Class A-2A. Teams will play just eight regular season games, down from the usual eight, to help combat the extra rounds of postseason. Player safety - another step in the right direction.
I guess only time will tell if these changes are for the better or not. We have to let the season takes its course. Hopefully I’m wrong is my anger is unnecessary. Until then, I’ll gripe away and yell for the underrepresented.