Prep football: Big changes begin in Class 4A

Ottumwa High School football coach Brian Goodvin walks the sideline during the Bulldogs’ 2019 season opener against Burlington at Bracewell Stadium in Burlington.

If the new regular-season football format in Class 4A adopted by the Iowa High School Association Thursday begins restoring competitive balance, then Ottumwa coach Brian Goodvin is all in.

The IHSAA Board of Control passed a “group” format based on a success model for its highest class as part of its normal district realignment among the six classes. However, there won’t be a two-year cycle for any district assignment, as the organization will revisit the process for each class after the 2020 season ends.

There aren’t many changes to eight-player through 3A. Class 4A, though, brings plenty.

“I know they worked pretty hard on this and had several meetings to hash it out,” Goodvin said. “They took a good, hard look at 4A in particular, and saw the playing field wasn’t level, and they couldn’t continue that way.”

Ottumwa will play in Class 4A Group 7, but the Bulldogs won’t play every team in the group. The six teams in the group — Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Pleasant Valley, Muscatine, Davenport North and Ottumwa — are in one of six tiers based on playoff success the last four years and the RPI rankings.

A few highlights:

• Ottumwa is a Tier 6 team, which is the lowest tier based on success. The Bulldogs will face Pleasant Valley (Tier 3), Muscatine (Tier 4) and Davenport North (Tier 5) within the group; they won’t face Bettendorf (Tier 1) or Kennedy (Tier 2).

• The Bulldogs, because they are a Tier 6 team, will face Des Moines Lincoln (Tier 5) and Des Moines North (Tier 6) from a correlating group in what are called “assigned” games. All five games fall under the “success model schedule.”

• There will still be the usual four non-group games, but the IHSAA weighed proposals for an eight-game regular season and a 32-team playoff format for all classes. That will be shelved for at least another year.

• In 4A, there won’t be an automatic playoff spot for the group winner. All 16 playoff spots will be determined at-large by the RPI, the only class that will award teams to the playoffs in this way.

Many of the changes occurred because of several concerns, namely over both escalating and declining enrollment among 4A schools, creating what many viewed as a competitive imbalance. Several metropolitan schools and the IHSAA held meetings to discuss their concerns, with one of the options creating a Class 5A, which Goodvin supports.

“I’d have rather seen that, because I think then it would create a lot of excitement in the lower half of Class 4A,” he said. “We went to Waukee and lost (74-12), then came back the next week and beat Des Moines East. There just shouldn’t be that discrepancy in the same group.”

As for the teams Ottumwa will face, there are many new faces. The Bulldogs haven’t played Muscatine since district play in 2015, have played Pleasant Valley once and never met Davenport North. The Bulldogs have more recent history against Des Moines North (2011) and Lincoln (2017).

Though the process still has to play itself out, Goodvin is optimistic about what the IHSAA has done.

“I think it’s a good first step to try to make football in 4A more competitive week in and week out, as it should be,” he said. “Our kids will be excited, but you still have to have the right mindset, because nothing in athletics is easy.

“There isn’t a game here that is a guaranteed win, but it does raise the bar,” he said. “They’re telling us that we should be competitive with these teams. Now, it’s up to us coaches and players to make sure that happens.”

The other classes remain largely unchanged from a playoff standpoint. District champions are automatically in the playoffs, with the RPI determining at-large qualifiers.

However, there was shuffling among classes. Cardinal, Pekin and Van Buren County will be joined by Louisa-Muscatine, Mediapolis and Sigourney-Keota in Class 1A District 6; Cardinal and Pekin were both Class A the last two years.

The district will cut down on travel for just about everyone involved.

“Part of the excitement of all this is the newness,” Pekin coach Brent Blakely said. “There are a lot of variables that go into it, and the IHSAA is trying to make decisions and changes that better suit everyone.

“I can’t remember the last time we played S-K in a game that truly had value, the same for Mediapolis,” he said. “Cardinal is very much on the rise. It’s nice to see the miles cut down. It’s going to be a really good district.”

Albia, EBF and Davis County were split apart in Class 2A. Davis County and EBF will be in District 7 with Central Lee, Mid-Prairie, West Burlington-Notre Dame and Williamsburg, while Albia will play in District 8 with Centerville, Chariton, Clarke, PCM and Saydel.

“I can’t wait,” Davis County coach Kent Anderson said. “I think we can be a little more competitive over the next couple years as our young kids develop into upperclassmen and have some good experience behind them.”

The new Class 3A District 5 could be a wide-open race. All six of the Southeast Conference schools — Burlington, Fairfield, Fort Madison, Keokuk, Mount Pleasant and Washington — make up the district. The Grayhounds are in 3A for the first time under the current six-class format.

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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