The Iowa high school football season is scheduled to commence in about five weeks. If a season does transpire, many schools in the Quad-Cities are uncertain which program they'll line up against in Week 1.
Several metro programs are slated to play opponents in Illinois. Muscatine had a 2 1/2-hour trip planned to Indianola that won't take place now.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association announced a revised schedule plan Friday for the upcoming season because of COVID-19.
The regular season has been dwindled from nine games to seven. The postseason has been expanded from 16 teams in each classification to every school.
"I really like what came out (Friday)," Muscatine activities director Tom Ulses said. "It is proactive from the perspective it scales some things back and it gives some flexibility."
The regular season, still scheduled to begin on Aug. 28, will be Weeks 1 through 7. The playoffs will begin on Oct. 16, what would have been Week 8 of the regular season.
The Ratings Percentage Index will not be used this year with all teams qualifying. The IHSAA said it will "determine postseason pairings with geography, quality and team availability as primary considerations."
Among the biggest challenges for Class 4A athletic directors and coaches is overhauling a schedule with less than 35 days until the opener.
The previously announced group format and success model the IHSAA planned to implement this fall will not be used. The IHSAA has encouraged conferences to collaborate in creating schedules.
One proposal discussed is for the six 4A football programs who are members of the Mississippi Athletic Conference in other sports — Bettendorf, Davenport Central, Davenport North, Davenport West, Muscatine and Pleasant Valley — to play each other Weeks 3 through 7.
Bettendorf had perennial powers Cedar Falls, West Des Moines Valley and Dowling Catholic along with games at Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Cedar Rapids Prairie on its original schedule. It is likely at least three or four, maybe all five, of those games won't take place now.
PV had games at Dubuque Senior and Kennedy on its schedule.
"You've got to take things like transportation and logistics into consideration," PV coach Rusty VanWetzinga said. "Traveling to Des Moines or Cedar Rapids, we might have to limit those and find somebody else for this year."
Teams in Classes 3A, 2A, 1A and A will play their scheduled district games in the established order released earlier this spring from Weeks 3 through 7. Originally, those contests were Weeks 5 through 9.
In 8-player, teams will play Week 3 through Week 9 of their previously announced schedules in what is now Week 1 through Week 7.
PV was scheduled to play Cedar Rapids Prairie in Week 1 and travel to Moline in Week 2. The Illinois High School Association is expected to make a decision about the status of fall sports next week.
If Illinois doesn't have a fall football season, there is a possibility PV could fill that Week 2 date with North Scott, which is slated to play defending Western Big 6 Conference champion Sterling that same night.
"We're not far from one another and it makes sense," VanWetzinga said.
Ulses sent out a number of emails to area 3A and 4A programs Friday to gauge interest in a Week 1 or 2 game against Muscatine.
"We can't rationalize traveling 2 1/2 to 3 hours for a game," Ulses said. "It is not in everyone's best interest. So we're looking at things and trying to come up with ideas to fill those first two games."
Schools also have the option of not playing Week 1 or 2. And schools that can't play a certain week because of COVID-19 won't be penalized. It will be recorded as a "no contest."
The majority of metro schools, though, would prefer a seven-game regular season.
After reading through Friday's report from the IHSAA, Assumption activities director and football coach Wade King had no major complaints.
"For the situation we're in, it probably makes a lot of sense," he said. "I've heard some people complain that everybody gets in the playoffs, but in every other sport they already do. I don't have a big issue with that.
"In our situation, we have to be awfully happy with anything we get."
The IHSAA is expected to release specific guidance for football next week that will outline safety measures.
There have been times in the past few months VanWetzinga wasn't confident a football season would take place this fall. With practice a little more than two weeks away, he believes it will happen.
"We've got to have football," he said. "Other sports have a fallback with AAU, travel teams or can go play at the Bett Plex. There isn't one for football.
"We need to do whatever we can to ensure we have football for grades 9 through 12, not just varsity. Everyone has to do their part."
If that means playing freshman, sophomore and varsity games on all different nights of the week, staggering practice times and having kids take their equipment home with them each day to avoid locker room interactions, VanWetzinga is a proponent to make football happen.
"Kids need to have activities and the community needs them," he said. "All the programs need to be diligent and have a responsible environment that is going to allow us to have a football season."
The baseball and softball seasons have gone off with relative success this summer. Of the 338 varsity baseball teams in Iowa, only 12 seasons ended early. Of the 335 varsity softball programs, 11 were cut short.
"I feel pretty good we'll be able to get started and get going," Ulses said, "but I don't know how things will progress.
"We had good overall success with the summer sports, but you've got more variables with fall sports and in particular football. You're interacting in a different way at practice in football than you are in baseball or softball."
So while compiling a nine-game schedule is a short-term challenge, Ulses admits there are bigger concerns.
"Honestly, the greatest amount of stress relates to what kind of strategies do we need to use to safely be able to play football this fall," he said. "The stress is, will we be able to have regular school sports in the fall?"
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