BOONE – The Iowa High School Athletic Association’s Board of Control voted unanimously Wednesday morning to table discussion about an eight-game prep football regular season.
The Iowa High School Football Coaches Association asked the IHSAA to consider decreasing the amount of games for fears of player safety. With the final week of the regular season and a condensed playoff schedule, teams could play as many as four games in 15 days.
The Board of Control decided more study was needed on the issue, and it will be looked at again after the upcoming two-year district cycle.
“My communication was with principals of the biggest 64 schools. That’s who I represent,” said Cedar Rapids Xavier Principal Tom Keating, chairperson of the IHSAA’s Board of Control. “While it certainly wasn’t unanimous, it was pretty clear that those principals had visited with their ADs and coaches and felt that they didn’t want to lose that ninth game.
“Maybe a study in the next couple of years will show we can do a nine-game schedule and still get away from the Friday, Wednesday, Monday, Friday scenario. If that happens, great. But it’s going to take a lot of study, a lot of work to see if that (can) happen.”
Williamsburg Athletics Director and head football coach Curt Ritchie played prep football in the mid-1980′s when Iowa had an eight-game regular season but said the postponed decision was appropriate.
“I think that is good on their part,” Ritchie said. “I hate to see them rush into anything like this.”
“Basically what I hoped they would take out of the meeting was that they should delay it for two years,” agreed Cedar Rapids Washington Coach/Athletics Director Paul James. “Definitely, it was (rushed). There were a lot of people, coaches and ADs, that were not aware of this proposal until a week and a half, two weeks ago.”
Mount Vernon head coach Duane Orr, IFBCA Board of Directors member at-large, understood that but was still not pleased with Wednesday’s outcome.
“I am disappointed that nothing was done to address what was far and away one of the biggest concerns expressed by coaches at our (postseason) district meetings,” Orr said.
He said the other major concern was the extreme success of parochial schools and whether some sort of reclassification system is needed.
“This was a grassroots effort to bring attention to player safety. We are very concerned about the safety of our kids,” Orr said. “We have to create more space in there (between playoff games). To me, the most logical thing for us to do is to extend the season. That’s my personal opinion.”
That would mean playing championship games the weekend after Thanksgiving, which the IHSAA has been hesitant to do. There also is the issue of availability of the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
If the University of Northern Iowa would be awarded a home FCS playoff game, the UNI-Dome could not be used the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Orr said playing championship games outside (at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City or Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, for instance) could be the best thing for everyone involved some years.
Opponents of eight-game schedules said losing a home regular-season game every other year potentially would cost thousands of dollars in revenue that goes toward funding all athletics programs. Keating said playing four games in 15 days is not ideal, but, in talking to Xavier head football coach Duane Schulte, coaches have learned how “to manage” the situation well enough to give players the best chance at staying healthy.
“To lose that possibility every other year of a home game (was tough),” Keating said. “Booster clubs depend on that (money), and obviously the gate receipts are an important part of that as well. So while those folks are cognizant of the Friday-Wednesday-Monday-Friday scenario, I think they felt at this time, if it came down to eight games versus nine games, and that was the only decision, they’d prefer the nine games.”
“It is tough,” James said. “Certainly Friday, Friday, Friday in the playoffs makes more sense. But not at the expense of a nine-game schedule.”
Ritchie said eliminating a home game could cost a program anywhere between a $3,000 for a modest gate to $12,000 from a well-supported rival. The impact would be felt beyond the football program.
“It pays for a lot of officials and a lot of other sports,” Ritchie said. “I don’t think it will be football that would be hurt. It is going to trickle down to some other program. Something is going to have to give. There is going to be a loss somewhere.”
A proposal that did pass Wednesday was to eliminate the current playoff bracket system. There are no more “linked” districts, with each round’s playoff pairings determined by multiple things, such as geography.
That would eliminate what happened this season, when Eddyville-Blakesburg had to make a three-hour trip to Clayton Ridge for a Class 1A first-round playoff game. The limit for first-round games now will be 125 miles.
“I don’t like that,” Ritchie said. “I know travel is important and it is something we have to look at it in the school budget. Time on the road and out of class aren’t good for the kids. I understand that, but I also know we aren’t afraid to travel a few extra miles if it’s against an opponent you should be playing.”
The IHSAA will announce districts for all classes publicly Thursday morning.
“The bottom line for us was to get the input from the people who were going to be directly affected,” Keating said. “I think we’ve done that. I’m proud of the guys for doing that, for reaching out to everyone. We appreciate the Football Coaches Association’s concern. It is really important that we consider what these committee’s bring because that is why they exist.
“They are the folks who are closest to it, and we need to pay close attention to what they are saying. We appreciate what they brought to us, the concerns they had. I hope they understand that at this time we can’t respond to everything they asked for, and that we are going to turn it back to them for further study, and that they come back to us maybe with additional recommendations.”