New INA All-State football selection process a disaster

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Opinion and Insight

At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, the embargo was lifted on the 2017 All-State Football teams provided by the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA).

What was once the premier list on which to appear was immediately seen to have been turned into a joke, and the blame lays squarely with the INA Board of Directors for forcing late changes that have proven to be — as most veteran sports writers foresaw and warned — a disaster.

Columns disparaging the new system and the embarrassing creation birthed by it have begun appearing in papers and on websites across the state, with some media outlets — the Omaha World Herald is just one example — refusing to publish the lists.

The former process brought sports writers to Des Moines on either a Saturday or Sunday morning to vote for the All-State teams. The boys and girls basketball teams were voted on in the conference room of a hotel steps from the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, while the baseball and football teams were created after meetings at the INA offices near the state capitol.

Any sports writer at any INA newspaper was welcome to appear and vote, although each publication could vote only once in each class (thus preventing a large paper with four writers from swamping a list). Coaches were welcome — and encouraged — to attend and while not able to nominate or vote, they were available for additional information, insight and opinion. Many would often call fellow coaches if questions arose or additional details were needed about a certain player.

Three tight end/receivers, three backs, quarterback, five offensive lineman and a placekicker were chosen for First Team, with four linemen, four linebackers, three defensive backs, a punter and a utility slot also chosen. Three teams were created.

There is a core group of between 20 and 35 committed sports writers who attended most if not all of these meetings. We all knew each other or at least recognized faces, and many of the group can boast of 20 or more years of experience covering Iowa prep sports.

At almost every meeting, a hue and cry would arise that some sections of the state would have little representation. After all, an unpaid weekend drive of perhaps two or three hours to Des Moines is a lot to ask, although more than a handful somehow managed to make it every time.

I always looked at it like this: If it really mattered to you, then you would show up or at least email in your thoughts and suggestions.

Apparently intending to increase participation, the INA Board of Directors, to my understanding, more or less strong-armed the All-State Committee of sports writers into accepting on-line voting, implementing the change midway through this season.

They got what they wanted: 105 voters. Who those voters were has not been released, as was always the case with the prior election process. They also got what they deserved: players named out of position, ridiculous honorees, incredible oversights, the choosing of players who already graduated (!) and more.

I was informed all voters received the All-District lists for the entire state, lists that are generated by the coaches. The problem is the coaches do not always name the same number at each position (if they list a position at all), and sometimes they leave spots unfilled or overstocked, etc. Coaches are often motivated to have as many of their own players make the lists as possible, and they often give a certain number of spots based on how each team finished.

And in one instance this year, a list from last season was submitted! It is an aid but no firm basis on which to create a statewide team of the most deserving.

When everyone met together in one place, we could hash things out, rely on the experience and insight of each other and the coaches present and work things through. Statistics do not always tell the story, and often they can be questionable.

I remember several years ago when Woodward-Granger hosted a team in the playoffs that had two linebackers who were credited with over 120 tackles apiece. No way, chum. No way. W-G won in the blowout, and the two supposed studs I had my eyes on combined for seven tackles. Uh-huh — again, this is why face-to-face matters.

Class 1A is so embarrassing that it is almost a shame even to bring it to light. But 4-5 Tipton has two first team offensive lineman and one on second team after they rushed for 1,750 yards. Van Meter wins the title at 13-0, has Carson Rhodes run for 2,148 yards and total 3,440 rushing yards, and yet they have only one lineman make third team.

Pella Christian is ranked second most of the season, finishes 11-1, and Noah Tremeir runs for 1,466 yards and 18 TDs and is not an all-state pick, but a sophomore from Treynor who runs for two scores and 222 yards is?

On top of that, two Pella Christian and one Woodward Academy player — all no longer in school — were included.

Why? Likely because the submitted All-District list was from 2016, and no one who covers the district apparently bothered to vote or were so inattentive they missed it.

So 105 voters created a joke for a list. Many of these voters, you can bet, have nowhere near the knowledge or understanding of the core group that used to show up and vote.

The INA, duly embarrassed, issued the following release Tuesday:

The All-State press release was issued to newspapers Monday, November 20.

The Iowa Newspaper Association was immediately notified of issues— athletes being honored more than once, misclassifications, etc. We are working diligently to figure out where the mistakes originated from. 105 Iowa Newspaper Association members voted in the selection process.

All-district lists, created and provided by coaches, made up the selection pool of athletes. We have encouraged newspapers to honor their local athletes.

The INA All-State Committee and others will be meeting and reviewing how we can make systematic changes in 2018.

Thanks for your patience and we apologize.

ThePerryNews.com is not an INA member, so I can no longer vote. I do keep in touch with many sports writers across the state and enjoy seeing old friends at state tourneys, meets and other games. For each sport, I have continued to email suggestions and thoughts on all the athletes I have seen or whose name and deeds have come up in conversations with coaches and others.

The 1A debacles would have been stopped had the writers met in person, I assure you. There were shenanigans and errors in all the other classes as well, as you can imagine. Unless radical changes are made, it will happen again.

There were many deserving choices. Perry’s Reece Dunlap and German Alvarenga were voted onto the Class 3A Third Team (not Second Team are erroneously reported elsewhere) and Panorama’s Luke South was chosen for the First Team in 1A. All three earned their spots and were sound choices. Others were not so lucky.

In the end, the athletes suffer, and it was on their behalf that the writers, for years, surrendered a Saturday or a Sunday.

I hope a fix can be quickly found but for now, the sports writer list is soiled, on account of actions for which they are not to blame.

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