The Iowa High School Athletic Association’s board of control reconfigured the high school football landscape Wednesday, but not with the ground-shaking changes that would have reduced the season.
The nine-man board shelved a proposal that would have cut a week off the regular season, opting to stick with the traditional nine-game format, at least for the next two years. But the playoff system will have a different look in 2014.
The IHSAA discontinued sister districts for 8-player through Class 3A and implemented a 125-mile travel limit for first-round postseason matchups. It also did away with preset playoff brackets, which means postseason pairings will now be determined after each round of the playoffs, with geography taken into consideration.
“The reasoning for that is to use common sense, and how can we eliminate a little travel distance?” said Johnston athletic director Gary Ross, a board of control member. “You’d still have the No. 1 (seed) versus No. 4, and 2 versus 3.”
The biggest potential change on the agenda never made it to a vote.
Citing player safety concerns, the Iowa High School Football Coaches Association asked the IHSAA to examine ways to provide playoff qualifiers with more recovery time. Coaches voiced concerns in recent years about a stretch that requires quarterfinal participants to play four times in 15 days.
“We always want to look at safety first,” Ross said. “But I think it’s also important that we look and gather more data on that to see truly what impact that does have on it.”
The proposal to cut into the regular season wasn’t greeted with open arms in recent weeks. Some coaches wanted to kick off the season a week earlier. Others preferred starting a week later, and some were fine with the current system.
“I understand the safety issue,” said West Des Moines Valley coach Gary Swenson, whose program reached the quarterfinals each of the last three seasons. “I don’t want to appear not being concerned about our players’ safety. … Yeah, that’s a lot of football and the last part of it is in a short period of time. But I don’t think any (coaches) would’ve wanted to give up any of those games. I don’t want to play less football.
“Ideally, sure, let’s space it out and play the championships after Thanksgiving, but that’s not going to happen.”
High school athletic directors raised concerns about the financial implications. They stood to lose a home game every other year and the ticket revenue that comes with it if the proposal passed.
West Des Moines Dowling’s Tom Wilson, who is also the school’s football coach, said his school raked in $16,000 at the gate in 2012 when the Maroons played Urbandale and another $20,000 that year for playing Southeast Polk. Wilson said football revenue pays the bills for nearly half of the other sports at Dowling.
Small schools would have felt the pinch as well.
“I’m against it as an athletic director,” said Madrid’s Randy Hinkel, also the school’s football coach. “I like the idea of spreading out the rest time for our kids, but I think it can be achieved with three other ideas that won’t impact every football playing school in the state. It ends up being one home game every year, and at Madrid that’s $3,000, which — holy smokes … that’s big in our finances.”