My wife read the article in The Gazette about the new formula for Class 4A football with the crossover games, success ratios and odd geographic groupings and wondered why the IHSAA made it so complicated.
It’s tradition, mostly.
Study groups and committees tend to muddy the process. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, so the IHSAA ends up with a formula that defies logic and comprehension, with six teams in some groups and five teams in others.
There’s a simple way to solve the problem of 4A football, where there are powerhouses like West Des Moines Dowling and weak sisters that haven’t made the playoffs in years.
There’s a simple way to handle 40 teams, a simple way to create the schedules and a simple way for schools to qualify for the 16-team playoffs without Cedar Rapids teams being grouped with schools from Central Iowa.
Here it is.
Divide the 40 schools into four districts of 10 teams apiece. You play every team in your district for a nine-game regular season. The top four teams in each district make the playoffs.
Clean and simple. You can group the teams like this:
— District 1: Jefferson, Kennedy, Washington, Linn-Mar, Prairie, Cedar Falls, Waterloo West, Iowa City Liberty, Marshalltown, Ottumwa.
— District 2: Davenport Central, Davenport North, Davenport West, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Muscatine, Iowa City High, Iowa City West, Pleasant Valley, Bettendorf.
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— District 3: Dowling, Urbandale, Ankeny, Council Bluffs Lincoln, Des Moines East, Des Moines North, Fort Dodge, Ames, Southeast Polk, Sioux City North.
— District 4: West Des Moines Valley, Johnston, Ankeny Centennial, Council Bluffs Jefferson, Des Moines Lincoln, Des Moines Roosevelt, Indianola, Waukee, Sioux City East, Sioux City West.
A few teams could change districts for competitive balance, but the basic structure would remain the same. But keep the districts the same for a long period of time so fans can remember which teams are in which districts, instead of changing them every two years.
Those five schools in Sioux City and Council Bluffs make the geography and travel a little tricky. We cannot trade them to Nebraska, so they need to be grouped with teams from Central Iowa.
Overall, this plan is neat and precise. It’s better than having five teams in one grouping and six teams in another under the current plan, and it’s better than grouping Cedar Rapids teams with Des Moines team when there’s no great reason.
Attendance would be much better in Group 1, for instance, with the five Metro 4A teams paired with five others of moderate distance. More fans would attend those games and boost the athletics department budgets, which are sorely strained these days.
Class 4A football was headed for trouble the moment the IHSAA dissolved conferences in favor of districts a number of years ago. It’s too late to turn back the clock, but it’s not too late to adopt a simple, dignified system that people can understand.
Jim Ecker spent 27 years in The Gazette sports department as a writer and editor. He currently is the sports director at KMRY Radio and the owner of MetroSportsReport.com.