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Assumption boys basketball coach Matt Fitzpatrick talks to his players during a timeout of a game last season. Fitzpatrick has mixed thoughts about the Mississippi Athletic Conference moving to an 18-game league schedule this season.

When Bettendorf and North Scott shared the Mississippi Athletic Conference boys basketball title four years ago, there was only one head-to-head meeting during the season.

"I think North Scott wanted to play again, we wanted to play again and I think people in our conference wanted to see us play again," Bettendorf coach Curtis Clark said.

That won't be an issue moving forward.

Starting this season, the MAC will crown a "true champion" as the girls and boys shift from 16 to 18 league games.

In the past, there were two schools each team played only once (it rotated yearly). Now, every school will travel and host each league opponent.

"I am a fan of it," Pleasant Valley boys coach Steve Hillman said. "If you're really going to have a conference champion, you've got to be on an even playing field."

Nobody disputes that.

The issue becomes the limited number of non-conference games. The state of Iowa allows each team only 21 playing dates for the regular season.

With 18 conference contests, it leaves just three non-conference opponents. And with seven of the MAC schools involved in the Genesis Shootout (boys) or IHMVCU Shootout (girls), that number dwindles to two.

Clark voted against the change to 18 MAC games strictly because of that.

"We play our league so much, and it is nice to see different styles of basketball," Clark said. "I think it's important to create different relationships outside the conference. There are a lot of good teams in the state of Iowa that could fill up more than two just games."

For Assumption, it leaves no flexibility. It has annual parochial rivalry games with Alleman and Dubuque Wahlert.

"Our schedule is basically set every year," Assumption coach Matt Fitzpatrick, said. "There isn't a lot of variety.

"I'd just like to play some non-conference games to get our kids some different experiences."

It becomes particularly problematic for the Knights when they attend their substate meeting in February.

Other than Wahlert, Assumption has no 3A opponents on its schedule and rarely has any common foes with other teams in its substate.

"It makes it very tough for seeding," Fitzpatrick said.

While Hillman would like to see Iowa extend the maximum number of playing dates from 21 to "23 or 25," he's not overly concerned having only two games outside the Quad-Cities this year.

"This year, our league has such good depth," he said. "There won't be too many nights off. But in years where the league isn't as solid, then it is critical you go out and play one or two high level state teams."

Conversely, the depth isn't as strong on the girls side among the 10 teams. In the past three years, the league champion has beaten the last-place team by an average of 47.5 points.

More conference games has meant severing ties with several Mississippi Valley Conference traditional powers.

PV kept Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Linn-Mar on its schedule but is no longer playing state-ranked Iowa City High. Bettendorf dropped tradition-rich Iowa City West. North Scott doesn't have Kennedy on the docket.

Those games were valuable in preparing the upper-division of the MAC for the postseason.

On the other side, it doesn't allow struggling programs such as Davenport Central or Davenport West as many opportunities to schedule games against schools in a similar situation or in lower classifications.

Many have advocated for Christmas holiday tournaments, currently a dead period in Iowa. Schools often will scrimmage another team during that nine- to 10-day period.

Clark isn't a proponent of that either.

"I know what I put our kids through and the amount of time we put into practice, weight training and film breakdown," he said. "It gets long and hard.

"I guess I'm a little more old-school. Christmas break is a chance to take a deep breath, re-evaluate personnel, get healed up and let kids spend time with their families. That's important."

No perfect solution exists.

Fitzpatrick would be in a favor of Iowa schools playing two to three non-conference games the week of Thanksgiving.

"It is a long 2 1/2 to three weeks of not playing anybody," he said. "I do enjoy Christmas break and shutting it down for several days, but if we could play a few non-conference games like the Illinois side (the week of Thanksgiving) and then go into league play, that'd be great."

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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.