Hope you enjoy those Mississippi Valley Conference football games Friday night because they may be the last ones. Save your program as a memento.
Yes, that stuff was said two years ago as well, when the 24 largest schools in the central and western part of the state voted to go to district football because of travel and difficulty with scheduling. After a lot of internal debate, the eastern half chose to continue playing as the MVC and Mississippi Athletic Conferences.
But this is the end of a two-year district cycle, and the 10 MAC schools recently voted to “re-open discussions” about 4A district football in Eastern Iowa, Iowa High School Athletic Association Assistant Executive Director Todd Tharp confirmed Friday. The vote was overwhelming, a source said.
Bottom line is there’s a very real sense that 4A district football will happen around here next season.
“I think (the MAC) just wants to talk about what district football would look like on that side of the state,” Tharp said.
“I think we’re going to be outnumbered now,” said Linn-Mar Athletics Director Scott Mahmens, who wants to keep conference football. “The way things are leaning, I think we’ll be playing district football next year.”
The MAC sent a letter to the 14 MVC schools this week to inform them of their vote, and MVC ADs discussed that at their regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday. It is believed the IHSAA will hold an informational meeting with the 24 schools involved sometime after the season.
Playoffs begin in all classes Wednesday night. Tharp said a final decision would have to come “before Christmas,” preferably within the first two weeks of December.
“I understand and respect the schools and the history of wanting to stay in these conferences,” Tharp said. “You do have to keep in mind that this would not destroy a conference. We’re just talking about football. I’m sure there are schools that believe going to district play would open up more options or opportunities for them in football … I certainly see both sides of this.”
There are four six-team 4A districts in Central and Western Iowa, some far flung geographically. For instance, Mason City and Ottumwa are district mates despite being over three hours apart by car.
Schools play five district games, with the top four in each district qualifying for the postseason. That led to Mason City qualifying last season with a 1-8 overall record and Sioux City West making it this season with a 2-7 mark.
On the eastern side, 4-5 Dubuque Senior did not qualify. Tharp was asked what kind of reaction the IHSAA has gotten about 4A district football on the other side of the state.
“I think there have been nothing but positive comments from everyone,” he said. “But they were the ones who came to us and said ‘We can’t make a schedule.’”
Because of their smaller enrollments, parochial schools Cedar Rapids Xavier, Davenport Assumption and Dubuque Wahlert would drop a class if 4A district football is approved. The MVC has dominated the MAC in head-to-head playoff encounters in recent seasons, which is another potential reason for the MAC wanting to change.
MAC schools would be paired with MVC schools in some districts, which, in theory, would better prepare them for the postseason.
Sources said eight MAC schools favor district football (all but Bettendorf and Muscatine), while an unnamed MVC source said six Valley schools want to go the district route: Xavier, Wahlert, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Waterloo East and Waterloo West.
Xavier Athletics Director Mike Winker disputed that.
“Right now, as a league, our stance is this: If there is a discussion, we want to be at the table,” Winker said. “We (at Xavier) are not advocating one thing or another. We’re open to talking about it. Until there’s more information, we don’t have an opinion either way.”
“Heck yeah, I’d love to stay with the conference format,” Mahmens said. “What I think the MAC schools are feeling, they’re not getting the tough contests week in and week out that they want. They want to play against tougher competition.”
“We need to be able to see what this would look like,” said Cedar Rapids Washington Athletics Director and head football coach Paul James. “For instance, can we pick more than one opponent each season? In our case, we need to play Jefferson every year. Will we be able to do that? There are concerns.”
Not just being able to continue longstanding rivalries but maintaining good gates as well. A Cedar Falls-Burlington game, for instance, would not seem to be heavily attended.
“I think the rivalries (in the MVC) have been great,” said Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Mike Morrissey, who played at MAC school Pleasant Valley. “I’ve only been here a short time, but I take great pride in what we do as a conference.”
Tharp told The Gazette before the season that he was “pretty confident” 4A conference football would remain in Eastern Iowa. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.
Or, as Morrissey put it: “I think this might be inevitable.”