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T-R COLUMN: Quite the conundrum in Class 4A football

December 20, 2013
By TROY HYDE - T-R Assistant Sports Editor (thyde@timesrepublican.com) , Times-Republican

Two years ago, Class 4A football was turned upside down when the Western half of the state decided to do away with the Central Iowa Metropolitan League in favor of the more common district alignment.

But if that change threw things for a loop, imagine what could happen in the coming years.

With the announcement earlier this week that Davenport Assumption, Cedar Rapids Xavier and Dubuque Wahlert all decided that they have the desire to play in their fitting enrollment (3A), the Eastern half of the state also may have to make the move to district football.

The Mississippi Athletic Conference (MAC) and Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC) tried to keep the conference rivalries together in football for as long as they could, but a move to match what the Western half of the state did may be inevitable.

In fact, the MVC decided this week that it would make the change to district football after losing Assumption. That drops the number of conferences in the entire state - all classes - that have not decided to welcome the idea of district football to just one, the MAC.

"From the conversations I have had with some of the people on the Eastern half, they are unsure of what they are going to do," said Marshalltown Activities Director Craig Huegel.

The moves to Class 3A by Assumption, Wahlert and Xavier and the change from 3A to 4A by Council Bluffs Lewis Central puts 46 football schools in Class 4A. The issue though is that 25 of those schools are in the Western half and 21 sit in the Eastern half.

That may shake things up on the Western half of the state and it may affect schools like Marshalltown, Ottumwa and Mason City, who all play in districts in the Western side of the state.

With the addition of Lewis Central on Thursday, does the state leave it at 46 and move two of those three schools east to even things out? Will they adjust numbers and bring two current 3A schools up to 4A to bring the number back to 48? Will they drop 4A down to 40 teams and put the remaining six schools in 3A?

No matter how you slice it, the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) will have a decision to make.

"If I'm at one the Eastern schools, I can see things from both perspectives," said Marshalltown football coach Aaron Shipley. "It makes sense for them to switch to districts, but there also is tradition that they are concerned with. I understand that, too."

According Huegel, the MAC has until mid-January to get their ideas together and decide what they are going to do.

"(Today) is the last day for schools to decide if they are going to stay in their current classification," said Huegel. "I have been told the week of January 20 is when the new districts will be released."

It just doesn't seem reasonable to think that the MAC can move forward as is for football. Why would one conference in the entire state be allowed to do something that others aren't doing?

Huegel said the IHSAA does not force a conference to honor the district format. But maybe they should. Maybe it's time for the state to step in and say "Welcome to district football."

No matter what happens, it appears Marshalltown could be affected one way or another.

If the Bobcats move to the East and play district football with the Cedar Falls and Waterloo schools - along with potentially Ottumwa or Mason City - it would affect rivalries with several schools in the CIML.

That doesn't seem to bother Huegel though.

"I am not concerned with keeping rivalries and traditions going," said the first year AD. "We want to position ourselves to have a lot of success. And the kids right now are doing a good job of moving toward that."

The three things Huegel pointed out that lead his list of concerns for the Bobcat football program are: Non-district opponents, travel distance and being able to get large crowds to road games.

"I am not interested in making our fans drive halfway across the state to watch us play football," Huegel said. "That doesn't appeal to me. I don't want to have to make our community travel more than an hour and a half.

"We also want to play teams in the non-district portion of the schedule that we feel like we can be competitive with."

Huegel and Shipley can keep current rivalries and traditions going through the non-district schedules if they choose.

If the state keeps the districts at six teams, that leaves MHS with four options in the non-district schedule. That would allow Huegel and Shipley to continue playing Ames, Fort Dodge and other schools in the CIML if that is what they want to do.

They could also re-unite with Newton, which dropped to 3A a few years back but is just 30 miles down the road.

Mason City and Ottumwa are currently in Class 4A Division 3 with Marshalltown. Those are three schools that make the most sense for a move to the Eastern half of the state. If that happens, those rivalries can continue. But, the one who doesn't move East could also decide to play the other two in non-district play.

"It would be exciting to see those two schools continue to be on our schedule," said Huegel of Mason City and Ottumwa.

There's still a lot left to be sorted out, and this topic will most certainly be re-visited in the coming months. That is why Shipley is holding back his opinions until he knows for sure what is ahead for his Bobcats.

"There are so many scenarios that I have seen so far," said Shipley. "I have been following it pretty closely and it looks like there is a lot left to sort out. Many of those scenarios that I have seen have us staying in the West and moving to the East so I don't know what is going to happen.

"Whatever model they come up with, it sounds like there will be some flexibility for us in the non-district schedule. That is something that is important to us."

One idea being floated around has been potentially trimming the season down to eight games.

That idea is not something Shipley or Huegel would be in favor of.

"That would be the state trying to condense the season, and that is something that I don't see as an option that I would be in favor of," said Shipley. "I also don't think trimming 4A down to 40 teams is a good idea. The problem is in 4A. Going down to 40 would create a domino effect in the other classes."

The next order of business in this issue appears to be taking place Jan. 7 when the remaining 12 schools in the MAC - minus Xavier and Wahlert - will hold a meeting to discuss options moving forward. Wahlert and Xavier were both a part of the "Valley" portion of the MVC. That leaves that division with just five schools, while the "Mississippi" division has seven schools.

Do they go to two six-team divisions and try to keep things the way they are? Or do they decide to give up and join the district party with the rest of their peers?

"I'm not sure what is going to happen, but I think things will move pretty quickly as far as what is decided," Shipley said.

MHS to hold "All-State Night" tonight at the Roundhouse

For the first time in Marshalltown athletics history, the school will host a "All-State Night" during the basketball doubleheader at the Roundhouse tonight.

"I have done it at other schools and it has been well-received," Huegel said.

MHS will honor any Bobcat student-athlete who were named all-state or advanced to an individual state tournament in the previous calendar year, which runs from last Winter to this past Fall.

Plenty of Bobcats will be honored. Huegel said athletes from 13 different programs will be recognized.

The event is expected to take place immediately following the girls' basketball game against rival Ames.

The girl-boy doubleheader against the Little Cyclones will start with the girls at 6:15 p.m. The boys' game is scheduled to tip off at around 7:45 p.m.