Recently, the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IAHSAA) sent out surveys to the Class 4-A schools in regarding if 4-A should convert to district football or retain the status quo of conferences. In last week’s Iowa Prep Sports section of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Jeff Linder reported that the Mississippi Valley Conference athletic directors are likely (to no surprise) to vote down any desire of district football.
The Mississippi Athletic Conference have expressed some interest in going to district football, if the IAHSAA will allow them to play their Illinois neighbors across the river, in the Western Big 6, who are in need of filling out their schedules. The IAHSAA instituted a rule in 2010 forbidding teams from scheduling and playing teams from out-of-state in football because “…enough coaches expressed concern for scheduling enough opponents.”
The Missouri River Conference is a patchwork of the schools from Council Bluffs and Sioux City. They have to fill their schedule with the CIML schools or 3-A schools. In the CIML, with plans of a realignment in place once Ankeny Centennial joins in 2013, it is a good time to discuss the future of 4-A football. For 20 years, the smaller classes have had district football. Class 4-A has remained steadfast against such a notion. Mason City, Ft. Dodge, and Dowling Catholic have indicated publicly their interest in moving to a district format.
So, how did this talk of district football in Class 4-A re-emerge?
Does anyone remember the old Big 8 Conference?
From the 1950’s until 1991, the Big 8 was a strong league that consisted of the Waterloo schools, Cedar Falls, Marshalltown, Ft. Dodge, and Mason City.
At one time, Des Moines East, Waterloo Central, Newton, and Ames were in the league.
When Waterloo Central closed their doors in 1987, the Big 8 was already forced to fill the gaps in their schedules.
For example, in 1988, East Waterloo played Sioux City East, Bishop Heelan, Columbia, Missouri, and Waterloo Columbus (now in 2-A) who was a yearly rival. In 1989, the Trojans went to play Minneapolis Edison. In my sophomore year (1991), we traveled to Rock Island, hosted Heelan and Lincoln (NE) Southeast.
West Waterloo did a home-and-home with Rock Island Alleman, traveled to play Kansas City Rockhurst, and up to Austin, MN.
The bottom of the Big 8 fell out when Marshalltown announced they were joining the Central Iowa Conference (now the CIML). The supposed reason: the cost of travel. The league could not continue to function. No one else was going to leave their conferences to join the Big 8. The CIC brought in Mason City and Ft. Dodge along with Marshalltown, but there was some rumblings whether or not the Mississippi Valley was going to bring in Waterloo East, West, and Cedar Falls.
During my sophomore year at East Waterloo, there were unconfirmed rumors floating around that the MVC would take CF, and not East and West. Another rumor was that both Waterloo schools could get in, if they built a new stadium (eventually that did happened). I have no clue if those rumors were true or not. We needed a conference to call home, and the MVC was it.
However, from a vantage point, the MVC was happy with what they had: all of their teams had a full schedule of games between each other and had established an uninterrupted history of rivalries.
Why ruin a good thing?
Regardless if those rumors were true, the MVC brought in all three Cedar Valley schools in, including Cedar Rapids Regis (which later combined with LaSalle to become Xavier). The issue of finding new homes and scheduling provoked the IAHSAA to look into implementing district football for all of the classes. When district football was put in place, starting in the fall of 1992, only Class 4-A refused to budge.
It meant an end to some great rivalries (Ottumwa vs. Oskaloosa for one), but the smaller classes have adapted well to the district format. In addition to the ever constant consolidation of small school districts, as a means of sustainability, it’s understandable why the district format has helped.
Andrew Petersen of the Quad City Times suggested that Davenport North would benefit moving down to 3-A. The problem is that are the Wildcats willing to give up their 4-A status and their city rivalries to move down? The same goes for the Des Moines city schools. They are unwilling to be broken up, and the CIML had to work around that situation in order to realign their conference once Ankeny Centennial joins the league in 2013.
My official stance then, in 1991, was that all of the classes, including 4-A, should be playing district football. Today my position hasn’t changed.
How 4-A has been able to fend off district football has been nothing short but amazing, with a hint of stubbornness. With several 4-A schools struggling with declining enrollment, the constant pursuit of filling the schedules of the Missouri River league, and the recurring theme of travel distance, the IAHSAA is having a Groundhog’s Day moment that resembles 1991: how do they remedy a problem that would most benefit the teams as a whole?
I feel it’s time for Class 4-A to seriously consider district football. The tide is starting to turn towards the concept. The smaller classes have been able to adapt, albeit some apprehension at first, to districts. How many current students today remembered that the WaMaC Conference had football champions? Ask a kid from Sioux City today who made up the Sioux Interstate Conference back in the 80’s. He or she wouldn’t know either question. (Answer: it was the Sioux City schools and the Sioux Falls schools. Council Bluffs Jefferson and Lincoln were in the Omaha public schools league).
I am a fan of history, and there is a rich history of the MVC, MAC, CIML, and the Sioux Interstate Conference. But sometimes, we can’t stay stuck in history, for history’s sake, or to be complacent.
Neither is playing by a different set of rules than everyone else.