Forfeits in Iowa high school football continue: What's the answer?

IHSAA responds to weekly football forfeits

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Another week of the prep football season, another forfeit. Make that two this time.

Yes, the Iowa High School Athletic Association is noticing the trend, and there is a level of concern.

“Anytime a game is forfeited, that is disappointing, particularly for the schools,” said Todd Tharp, Assistant Executive Director of the IHSAA, in charge of football. “It appears we’ve had a a forfeit every week since Week 2. None would be a great number. One forfeit out of 173 games is a small percentage, but it’s still something that we don’t like to see.”

This has been different than previous seasons in that there have been forfeits so early and by more than one school. For instance, Danville played its first three games of 2016 but forfeited its final six because it didn’t have enough available players.

This season, Montezuma forfeited a non-district game to Prairie City-Monroe in Week 2 because of injuries that depleted its roster. The Braves played their next two games, both losses.

Starmont forfeited its Class A district game in Week 3 to Lisbon but played last week, losing to Postville, 37-21. North Butler, which defeated Starmont in a season opener, forfeited last week to Saint Ansgar and will forfeit Friday night against Nashua-Plainfield.

Also off Friday night is the 8-Player game between Elkader Central and Don Bosco. Like Montezuma, Central was a playoff team last season.

It began this season with just 18 players on its roster.

“For most schools, it’s just numbers, and I can’t sit here and tell you what needs to happen from that standpoint,” Tharp said.

The IHSAA will re-draw its football districts this winter, which will allow schools to decide if they have the manpower to continue playing, or perhaps the best course of action might be combining with another school. Tharp said an all-sports “classification committee” is scheduled to meet next week and will discuss the forfeit issue, among other things.

He theorized that increasing the enrollment number to play 8-Player football instead of 11-Player would be discussed, though he doesn’t know how much of a long-term answer that could be. Right now, schools with an enrollment of 115 and under have the option to play Eight-Player.

“We don’t have a magic number where if you only have 20 kids, you have to play 8-Player. Or you have to have 40 kids to play Class A,” he said. “We hope that all of our schools, once we are ready to re-district next year, will evaluate their programs and look and see what they have at the junior-high levels, as far as numbers are concerned. Can they continue to (play)?”

Tharp said the association is willing to work with schools to shorten games in order to get them played. If one team is heavily favored, perhaps quarters could be shortened from 12 minutes to eight.

There is leeway.

Schools that forfeit district games are now not eligible for the playoffs, which is a deterrent. Tharp said in future scheduling, the IHSAA will look at this season’s forfeits, in order to make sure schools that have been shorted home games are able to somehow recoup that lost revenue.

As a hypothetical example, perhaps Lisbon and Starmont will be placed in a Class A district again, though Lisbon would get home games in both years of the cycle. Tharp said North Butler offered to pay officials fees after forfeiting to Saint Ansgar last week.

“I don’t have the magic answer,” Tharp said. “I visit with people around the country, too, and there are some other states where numbers are lower as well. A lot of it is just our population base in some of our rural areas. A lot of people are moving into suburbia, and our rural areas are unfortunately thinning out. That’s where maybe some of our schools might want to take a hard look at their programs and look and see if they can sustain football and make it safe for them all.”

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