ELDON — After a wild summer sports season, football is finally around the corner, and that means all new challenges in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a quick turnaround for the state of Iowa, which had to squeeze in baseball and softball season after certain COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in early June. Like the summer sports, fall sports will have to adjust to new rules and an ever-changing atmosphere when the football, volleyball and cross-country seasons begin.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association issued fall guidance in July, and also changed around the 2020 schedule. Weeks 1 and 2 were made “optional” game dates, district schedules were kept in place, and a new playoff system was put in place where every team in Iowa gets to participate.
Cardinal head coach Landon Miler discussed the new schedule in a phone interview with The Union. Miller’s squad was one of a handful of teams who had to scramble find games for Weeks 1 and 2.
The Comets, who will be participating in Class 1A this season, originally had a road game with Wayne High School in Corydon in the first week, with North Mahaska at home in Week 2. The new schedule allowed Wayne to find a different Week 1 game, but told Cardinal they would still host them in Week 2.
“Wayne was one that we had already set up for Week 1, and then they found a different game,” Miller says. “It was just finding whatever is left for (Week 1).”
The Comets were able to schedule Southwest Valley High School in Corning in Week 1. That’s a two-and-a-half hour drive, with a one-and-a-half hour drive in the week following. The game against North Mahaska, which won’t take place, was originally scheduled to be in Eldon.
“I will say the only thing I was a little disappointed in was that, basically, the state said you had to go and find teams you’re going to play in Week 1 and Week 2. We had to scramble over the weekend to figure out who we were going to play, and now we’re driving over three hours,” Mille rsays.
The change in schedule had Cardinal playing four of their first five games on the road, but the Comets were able to get approved for an eighth game on Sunday. Cardinal will host Columbus Community, another Union area team, in a Week 0 game on August 21.
Miller says he was mostly happy with the changes that were made, especially the new rule that allows every school to make the playoffs. For the first time, the football postseason schedule will look like al other team sports in Iowa where nobody is left out because of win-loss record.
“I think the playoff format now changes everything,” Miller says. “I’m a huge proponent of trying to get our playoff structure like this. it’s unfortunate that a pandemic had to force it, but I am a strong proponent that in the future, this is how it should be.”
Miller says the 16-team playoff format that is currently in place for Iowa high school football takes the competitiveness out of a lot of late season games. By the time the last few games of the year take place, some teams are already out of the playoff hunt.
“There isn’t a lot of hope in Week 7 and Week 8 for teams who are perennially not going to make it there,” Miler says. “Now I can look at my kids in Week 7 and Week 8 and say, ‘we’re still fighting for something.’”
Miller says this also allows teams to use early games as more of a preparation for bigger games down the line, and the postseason.
“We always say the biggest improvement comes from Week 1 to Week 2,” he says. “From then, it’s all about building to that playoff game. That’s how it is in basketball and baseball.”
Miller says he was originally a proponent of moving football to the spring. The idea was floated around Iowa football circles to bump the season back into spring and possibly move a spring sport up to fall. Some were concerned with having two football seasons so close together, assuming the 2021 football season would be back in the fall.
“I think it would have been a good idea,” Miller says. “The blow back I got was, ‘is it safe for kids to go from football in summer to football in fall?’ My answer was, ‘kids go from football to basketball or wrestling in a week.”
As it stands now, the football season is just over two weeks away, with Cardinal and Columbus playing in one of the first football games since coronavirus wreaked havoc on the sports world this spring. The fall will present an interesting challenge for everyone, as the sports world continues to live and learn with uncertainty surrounding every week.