Class 3A District 6 features the five teams that comprise the Southeastern Conference in every other sport, plus district champion and state semi-finalist Solon from the groups previous Class 3A district 5 assignment over the last two seasons that also featured Oskaloosa and West Burlington/Notre Dame.
Head Coach Garrison Carter from Washington and Matt Jones from Fairfield discussed the changes with The Fairfield Ledger.
Q) What are the benefits to smaller districts besides travel costs?
?The biggest change, to me, is that every game will matter when it comes to playoff consideration with the RPI ratings. In the past, non-district games didn?t factor into the playoff formula. Now, every Friday Night counts not only for the community, fans, players and school, but also for the playoff committee.?
Garrison Carter, Washington
?It allows you to schedule more non-district games and promotes the creation of rivalry games.?
Q) What do think of your placement? Fair or foul? Thoughts on other teams that may be joining you?
Jones: ?I think the placement is about what we thought. It?s exciting to play our SEC schools, as there are natural rivalries there and the kids get to know each other because they compete often in hoops, wrestling, track, baseball and others. Also, we all know how good Solon is. We know they were a final four team last year that lost to the eventual state champ.?
Carter: ?The district is about what we expected. We figured it would be the conference schools and then either Solon, Oskaloosa or CCA. I?m not surprised that the state sent Solon this way, as geography isn?t always the only thing they look at. I think they have a vested interest in splitting up the perennial state powers.?
Q) Do you like the postseason rule changes? Do you like that only district champions are guaranteed a playoff spot? Will this encourage schools to play down to ?weaker? teams in non-district play to improve overall records? Will it be harder or easier to fill in the four open dates because of this?
Jones: ?I wish the IHSAA would have gone back to a nine game schedule with 32 playoff qualifiers from 3A, or even get creative with a 24 team playoff. I?m afraid there will be 8-1 teams left out of the playoffs, and that?s not good for our game. The IHSAA did give some good advice to not fret over one game on the non-district schedule, but to look at the schedule as a whole. Our Activities Director, Jeff Courtright, and I have talked a bit, and the first question we asked ourselves is ?Who can we schedule to give our student/athletes a great playing experience?? We will put a variety of schools on our request list for non-district games and work to include some schools that give us a couple or all of these - acceptable travel time, quality facilities, natural rivalry, some familiarity, and similar community make-up.?
Carter: ?I was really hoping to see the state go back to 32 qualifiers. I just think that we are fighting hard to save this game right now. Participation numbers continue to fall, and with only 16 qualifiers it only hurts that. Playoff games are huge for kids, school districts and communities. It?s a shame that 16 teams in each class will miss out on that opportunity. I also think with 32 qualifiers it makes more games mean something later in the season.?
Class 1A district 5 will feature the five southern most teams from Class 1A-4 alignment from last rotation with the addition of Mediapolis. The five teams are Van Buren, Columbus Junction, Sigourney-Keota, Wapello and Wilton. The Warriors will have at least two years off in football against Iowa City Regina who was shifted north to district six and Highland and Louisa-Muscatine who dropped down to Class A and jumped up to Class 2A, respectively.
Class A district 6 features the remaining local teams, Pekin and Cardinal, who won?t shift anywhere this rotation. The Comets and Panthers are somewhat on an island losing New London, Montezuma and Winfield-Mt. Union to 8-man football while Lynnville-Sully and North Mahaska were shifted west to district eight. Distict 6 newcomers include Durant and Highland from the northeast and B.G.M. and Belle Plaine from the northwest.
Q) Benefits of the smaller districts?
Brent Blakely, Head Coach Pekin
?It is structured in a way that allows bigger schools to play smaller schools and not be penalized. I think smaller schools who have had success find it difficult to schedule up a class because there was little to gain for bigger schools from winning and potentially a lot to lose from a loss when playing down a class in regards to the point system they used years ago. It also makes you pay attention to your opponents schedule to a degree. I like the potential flexibility of scheduling and the opportunity to cut down on travel as we would have had to make a few long trips to play two more class A schools.?
Chris Becker, Cardinal Activities Director
?The chance to schedule more opponents of your choosing and more home non-district games is great. They also allow you more flexibility in who you can play. We are able to go play some teams that might be better match-ups for us than the ones in our district. We are trying to build our program up and build confidence in our kids, and it?s hard to do that when you have a great team running up the score on you. I think we are going to be very happy with our non-district games. With the limited number of Class A schools in our area, we are forced to travel farther distances, but we will have plenty of time to plan for the longer road trips.?
Q) What do think of your placement?
Blakely: ?I?m excited about our placement and the opportunity to play some new but also familiar faces. We have a solid history with everyone in our district aside from Durant, so it was nice to see a new face and some old ones we haven?t competed against for a while. I think the state tried hard to make things as fair as possible, but there is definitely no perfect system. We will give this system a chance and hope for the best.?
Becker: ?I think our placement is fair. We are in ?No Man?s Land?. We have Pekin and North Mahaska as the only close Class A teams around us. With other schools in our old district going to 8-man, we knew we were going to have to travel. We will make the adjustment and go compete. I understand that 8-man is a necessity for some schools in regards to enrollment, but I think some schools were quick to drop to 8-man. We made 11-man work with a small roster, and we didn?t forfeit a game or cancel a season due to numbers. Several of the schools that went to 8-man had bigger rosters than we did and were competing for the district title, so that?s a little bit of a head scratcher but to each there own.?
Q) Postseason rule changes?
Blakely: ?I?m not sure how I feel about only the champion getting a playoff birth. I think until we give it a legitimate chance, we wont truly know how it will work. I think the system changes how we schedule non-district games, as now there is alot of weight on almost half of your schedule if your needing to qualify thru the RPI system. As a smaller school I hope it broadens our possibilities of playing people we may not have been able to play in the past, but could compete with. Who knows as it may create new rivals and more competitive games across the state.?
Becker: ?We were infavor of a 32 team playoff. Some people say that is watering it down a bit, but I personally feel it is giving some hope to those teams that are trying to build their program up and may not have the tradition as say, a Pekin, who is competitive year in and year out. It gives those schools some confidence and something to build on if they can raise that banner in their gym that they were a playoff quailifer. I can only speak for us as far as the non-district play, but we looked at schools that we thought we could compete with. I would think schools would want to be challenged a little bit, because it doesn?t do you any good to play schools that you are just going to blow their doors off. I?m sure there are people out there that like to do that sort of thing, but I?m not sure what the benefit is.
Blakely: ?Overall, I think the state is trying to make things right, but we need to recognize there will always be a flaw in whatever model they choose to use. Time will only tell how well this model works for Iowa High School Football. At the end of the day, you still want to be in position to win your district and try and stay out of the mathematical formula to make the playoffs. It will be an exciting season for sure with all the new changes.?
Becker: ?I was a little concerned about having to come up with four non-district games to fill, but my first experience going through this has been great. I reached out to a few AD?s and some reached out to me, and we have had some good conversations with schools about our non-district schedule. I think the schools that we are going to play are going to be competitive games for us. It?s just an exciting time at Cardinal, and we look forward competing.?