From the Press Box: Good riddance to the 32-team playoffs

A brief overview of the six state title games on tap at the UNI-Dome.

As the Dear Observant Reader will already be aware, tonight will mark the start of the prep football playoff season in Iowa. It will also mark the last year of having 32 teams from each of the six classes (8-man, A, 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A) qualifying for the postseason.

The IAHSAA will redistrict teams early next year, and those assignments will bear even more importance than usual, as no official decision has been made as to just how teams will qualify.

The decision to return to the 16-team field was made early this summer and did not sit well with the Iowa Football Coaches Association. The controversy was discussed here: and it is well worth looking back to see how the change came about.

There are, in my humble opinion, valid arguments both for keeping the field at 32 teams and also for reducing the field to 16.

I am well-acquainted with dozens of sportswriters across the state, many I have known for 20-plus years. While not a universal viewpoint, I can, with some confidence, tell you that the move to expand the field from 16 to 32 was widely derided by the sportswriting community.

Much of the disagreement with the move was a lack of understanding just why, after playing nine games over nine weeks, teams that would earn a spot in the semifinals would suddenly have to play three games in 10 days (Wednesday-Monday-Friday).

It was also felt — and this is hard for the IAHSAA to refute — that the expanded playoff grid greatly increased the revenues shipped to Boone while adding only a very small addition to the revenues of the schools, and then only to a very small number of schools.

There is also this: 32 teams simply do not deserve the honor. This year Davenport North (1-8!) will travel to Bettendorf (9-0). Hmmm.

This year one 1-8 team, nine 3-6 teams and 21 4-5 teams (along with two 4-4 and one 5-5 team in 8-man) will appear in the postseason, making a mockery of regular season. Toss in an additional 29 teams that are 5-4 and 37 teams that are 6-3 will also be playing tonight.

It comes down, in a nutshell, to how you see the scenario as a whole. Should more kids be able to experience the postseason, especially if their teams finished with a losing record? This is part of the “give everyone a trophy” mentality that many find irritating and counter–productive.

The coaches — who, for obvious reasons, want as many teams to make the postseason as possible — have argued in the past that in a tough district team “A” may finish 3-6, but were they in a softer district they might have gone 6-3.

Good point, but irrelevant. The districts — and there are certainly all sorts of legitimate gripes every two years for how they are created — are what they are. You play the teams you play, and if you want to be better, get better.

The other viewpoint approaches the argument like a recipe for a thick stew: If you keep adding more and more water, sooner or later you have a weak broth, not stew.

There will be howls that reducing the field back to 16 per class is simply rewarding the good teams will limiting others. Probably true, but only once — once — in the history of the 32-team fields has any third-place district finisher appeared in the title game. No fourth-place district team has ever advanced to the semifinals, and to my knowledge no fourth-place squad has advanced (two wins) to the quarterfinal round.

The point? The good teams are still going to be the good teams, so if want to join them, improve. It is as simple, and as difficult, as that.

Again, valid arguments can be made for both a 16 and a 32-team field. No one is going to be happy; I suppose the unenviable goal of the IAHSAA is to have as few unhappy as possible.

There are still many details to be ironed out, which the IAHSAA punted until after this season. One should be leaving the UNI-Dome, which would free up the schedule (but that is another column entirely).

Until then, enjoy, if you can, watching 31 sub-.500 and three .500 teams play tomorrow, because they will not be there next year. Anyone want to bet how many of those 34 teams will win?


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