New football class doesn't solve problem

The Cardinal defense stops a Pekin runner Oct. 16, 2020 during Cardinal’s first playoff win in recent memory. (Kevin Rohr/Courtesy)
The Cardinal defense stops a Pekin runner Oct. 16, 2020 during Cardinal’s first playoff win in recent memory. (Kevin Rohr/Courtesy)

ELDON — When the Iowa High School Athletic Association announced it would be adding an 11-player group to reduce the disparity in enrollment in the largest class of football, and increasing the number of participating teams in the postseason, Cardinal coach Landon Miller saw the move as more of the same.

“They had the ability to do what is best for ‘all’ kids and they fell short,” Miller said. “An extra class does not solve the problem.”

While the extra class and the extra playoff qualifiers are a good idea, Miller said the IHSAA avoided the fact that enrollment size does not accurately depict a student body. An idealistic goal the Iowa Football Coaches Association has discussed and shared is to match up student bodies with like student bodies for regular season competitive equity.

“That would give kids, coaches, and the community a better experience,” Miller said.

To do that, the IHSAA could have decided to use factors besides enrollment like free and reduced lunch (FRL) rates and recent success for grouping teams into classifications.

From 2009-2020, the five Des Moines public high schools — East, Hoover, Lincoln, North and Roosevelt — are a combined 0-104 against the other large-class high schools in Polk County: Ankeny, Ankeny Centennial, Johnston, Southeast Polk, Urbandale, West Des Moines Valley and Dowling Catholic, a private school. The average score of those games is 50-10.

While the schools have comparable enrollment numbers, the student bodies of those schools look much different. The opportunities for those student bodies look much different. Pure classification on enrollment does not factor in those differences.

While the pure quantity of kid difference might lower, the percentage of total kids is the same or higher in terms of enrollment from top to bottom. The state has said that space at the UNI-Dome is an issue with more classes.

“I think that is a small problem for the greater good,” Miller said.

Miller is not the first to suggest combining enrollment with the percentage of FRL at a school for an adjusted enrollment figure. An example would be Des Moines Lincoln with 1,793 students in ninth through 11th grades has 75 percent of its enrollment on the FRL program so that the school’s enrollment number should be 1,122.

“It is not a hard concept to do,” Miller said. “This makes the competitive balance in classes much more equal.”

Using Miller’s formula, Burlington’s enrollment (803 to 563 adjusted) is much closer to Washington, Fairfield and Mt. Pleasant.

Cedar Rapids Xavier (three titles, two since 2017), Iowa City Regina (2020 championship was its eighth, seventh since 2010), and Sioux City Bishop Heelan (four titles) all have a low percent of students on FRL.

Miller was also disappointed with the postseason plans.

“They had a chance to continue everyone making the playoffs,” he said. “It is what is best for kids.”

There will be 48 teams each in 2A and 1A with 32 playoff qualifiers.

Miller said it would be easy to create a district-based tournament with 48 or 36 teams.

“I did it in about 20 minutes,” Miller said. “If they are worried about geography, then match up districts together in the first round.”

Districts are created for geography so the district-based tournament would control for geography.

“In the end, it is disappointing and frustrating that the leadership of the association cannot see progress,” Miller said. “Our kids, in this state, deserve leadership that will do what is best for all kids. I believe all of the ideas that I am talking about are best for all kids.”

He maintains that none of the proposals he mentions would change who wins state championships but it would change regular season games to allow student-athletes a more competitive experience.

“I just think we can do better,” Miller said.