When it comes to the football playoffs, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has gone from one extreme to the other.

Thirty-two teams was too many. Sixteen is too few.

For the past eight seasons, 32 teams in each classification qualified for the playoffs. With just 46 schools in Class 4A at that time, it often resulted in schools with 2-7 or 3-6 records sneaking their way into the postseason.

Davenport North, in fact, landed the program’s first playoff berth at 1-8 last fall.

Citing player safety, the IHSAA trimmed the field in half starting this season to 16 qualifiers in each of the six classifications — just like it had done prior to 2008. It wanted to avoid having schools play three postseason games in an 11-day window.

Less than three weeks from determining this year’s playoff field, the state’s playoff structure still needs tweaked.

The advantage is we won’t see any teams with just two or three wins pop up at 10 a.m. Oct. 22 when the playoff pairings are revealed. Conversely, there will be schools with 6-3 and possibly 7-2 records not mentioned.

In a span of one season, we could go from a team winning 11 percent of its games and getting in to someone prevailing almost 78 percent of the time and left out.

There needs to be a happy medium.

Specifically in the Quad-Cities area, Iowa City High (5-1) and Bettendorf (4-2) are ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the state this week. Muscatine (4-2), Clinton (3-3) and Davenport Central (3-3) join them in Class 4A District 7.

Muscatine could win out — at City High, Central, at Clinton — and finish with seven victories but be on the outside based on point differential. The Little Hawks could lose this week but knock off Bettendorf and North the next two weeks and be omitted with seven wins.

Clinton, meanwhile, could equal the third highest win total the program has had in 30 years if it beats Central, North and Muscatine the next three weeks. Most likely, it won’t be good enough.

The issue is not restricted to 4A.

In Class 3A District 4, Clear Creek Amana (6-0), West Delaware (5-1), Davenport Assumption (4-2) and Marion (4-2) are vying to snatch the district’s top two spots.

There is a scenario, though, in which Assumption could reach seven wins and not qualify. The positive for the Knights is 3A does offer two wild-card playoff spots across the state, and the first criteria in determining those are awarding schools which tied for a district championship.

But if more than two of the seven districts have three teams tied at the top, somebody is left out.

With the state determined to conclude the season before Thanksgiving and not in favor of bumping up the start of the season, there are limited solutions.

There has been chatter of going to an eight-game regular season and having a 32-team playoff bracket, but schools don’t want to lose the revenue of having a fifth home game taken away every other season.

Plus, we don’t need to whittle the number of opportunities. Football already has fewer contests than any other sport.

I’m a proponent of a 24-team playoff system.

But instead of just awarding the top three teams from each district, I’d recommend taking the top two and then the next eight best records across the state.

Another option is to implement a point system in which schools are given additional points for wins over teams with plus-.500 records or more points for non-district victories against schools in larger classifications.

To make it work and continue with a nine-game regular season, it likely would require the season to be moved up a week. You could give each district champion a bye while the other 16 schools play in the opening round.

It still would require at least four or five wins to get in. It also wouldn't exclude six-win teams in most instances.

It also would give schools like Clinton, which has lost its first two district games, an incentive other than pride to win late in the regular season.

Illinois gets every six-win team into its playoff field. In a majority of cases, five wins is safe.

It is time for Iowa to find middle ground, too.


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.