Prep Football

Iowa high school football remains a go for 2020, with some significant changes

There will be between 5 and 7 regular-season games for schools, everyone makes playoffs, health permitting

Cedar Rapids Jefferson's Jacob Coyle (9) hands off the ball to Ezeki Leggins (23) in their prep football game at Kingsto
Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Jacob Coyle (9) hands off the ball to Ezeki Leggins (23) in their prep football game at Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Coaches and activities directors around Iowa were scrambling Friday afternoon. But it was a good kind of scrambling.

Trying to find opponents for the 2020 season beats not having any opponents at all.

The Iowa High School Athletic Association announced its board of control voted to accept a revised plan to reschedule the entire football season. The dates don’t change, as the first day of practice is still Aug. 10, the first games Aug. 28 and the state finals still Nov. 20-21.

It’s just everything in between does.

“To better prepare for the 2020 varsity football season, the IHSAA developed a revised schedule plan which allows for member school adjustments due to COVID-19,” the Association said. “Football remains the only Iowa high school sport with regular season schedules and postseason qualifying managed by the IHSAA. The revised plan considers flexibility for school return concerns, geography, postseason qualifying, transportation, and possible COVID-19 cases as rationale for changing previously announced varsity football schedules.”

Here are the highlights of the new deal, so to speak:

— Schools will have a seven-week regular season, with the option of playing five, six or seven games. Or they could opt out of a season completely.

— Every school theoretically makes the playoffs, which would begin Oct. 16, or what originally was Week 8 of the regular season. Pairings for the six-round event will be determined by “geography, quality and team availability as primary considerations.” That last part is a nod to the possibility of schools not being able to play in the postseason because of coronavirus quarantine, as happened with some baseball and softball teams this summer.

— Teams in Classes 3A, 2A, 1A, and A will play their five previously scheduled district games beginning in Week 3 (Sept. 11). In 8-Player, the originally scheduled Week 3 through 9 games will be Week 1 through 7 now.

— Weeks 1 and 2 are considered “optional game dates.” 8-Player schools can choose whether or not to play their already scheduled games. Schools in all other classes are on their own to find opponents and locations if they choose to play.

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— Class 4A schedules have been completely blown up for this season. Schools are on their own to remake their schedules, with the IHSAA encouraging the Mississippi Valley Conference, Mississippi Athletic Conference, Central Iowa Metro League and Missouri River Conference to assist in that endeavor.

“We knew we were going to start our season with Jeff. Are we still going to start with Jeff?” asked Cedar Rapids Washington Coach Maurice Blue. “Maybe that doesn’t have to change, I don’t know. But my guess is everything is going to get shot to hell, and it’s going to be completely different. But, you know what, if it’s different versus not playing, we’ll take different.”

That was the overwhelming opinion of coaches talked to Friday. They will deal with and adjust to anything thrown their way if it means playing football and doing it safely.

Specific safety guidelines for all fall sports are expected to be released Aug. 1. The IHSAA has requested schools give their intent to play or not play football by Aug. 17.

New complete schedules for each school should be available shortly after that.

“Heck, yeah,” said Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Brian White, when asked if he was OK with the revised plan. “As long as we’re playing football. If we can get five games in, to me, that’s a win. Given the status of not only Iowa but the entire United States of America with COVID, I think if these kids have an opportunity to line up and play some football, we’ve got to cherish every second we can get.”

“I like it a lot,” said Central City Coach Matt Miers. “It doesn’t penalize teams for the postseason if they have to miss a game or two. The flexibility is great. Another coach said that this model will encourage teams and players to be truthful about (being sick), knowing it won’t cost them the postseason. The coaches in our 8-Man coaches chat a little bit ago seem to all be in favor of it.”

Iowa was the first state to get prep sports back up and running, its baseball and softball seasons in their state tournament phase. Though not everything went perfectly, only 21 of 338 varsity baseball teams had their seasons interrupted by COVID-19, including 12 whose seasons came to a premature end.

IHSAA Executive Director Tom Keating said in an interview Thursday with The Gazette he felt the baseball season overall was a success, and the Association hoped to use that momentum into the fall, if it could.

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Without a doubt, football is a totally different animal in that there is much more personal contact. Other states have postponed their seasons to the spring or are pushing back their seasons.

Iowa appears to be full go, keeping in mind this entire situation is incredibly fluid.

“Between the state and the ADs and the individual schools, baseball and softball have probably given those that manage the sports a little bit of insight into how to go about things and organize and stuff,” said Linn-Mar Coach Paul James, former AD at Cedar Rapids Washington. “I haven’t always been 100-percent positive that we would have a football season in 2020. But it’s looking more and more like it’s going to happen.”

“Baseball was such a fabulous model for us,” White said. “I’m talking strictly Kennedy right now because that’s where I’m at, but we worked out some kinks. When we started our summer football stuff, there were some kinks to iron out, too. As of right now, the hybrid model (of classes), reducing the amount of kids in the schools each day, I think everything is set up for more success. Whatever your definition of success is may vary. But, again, just playing football is a win, in my opinion.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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