Since the Iowa High School Athletic Association expanded its football playoffs in 2008, the scoreboard in Class 4A eastern Iowa has been heavily tilted in one direction.
The Mississippi Valley Conference, comprised of schools from the Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo metropolitan areas, has a 29-12 advantage against the Mississippi Athletic Conference in the postseason.
"No doubt, they've kicked our butts the last few years," Davenport Assumption linebacker Jake Poster said. "We need to prove we can hang with them."
The MAC can earn a measure of respect tonight in the second round of the 4A playoffs.
Three games, three head-to-head matchups between the two leagues.
Based on records and seeds, the MAC has the advantage in two — ninth-seeded Cedar Falls (7-3) at top-seeded Pleasant Valley (10-0) and seventh-seeded Cedar Rapids Kennedy (7-3) traveling to second-seeded Davenport Assumption (9-1). The other contest is Iowa City West (9-1) hosting Bettendorf (8-2) in a 4-5 game.
But as recent seasons have shown, lower-seeded MVC teams have ousted the MAC's best.
Just last year, Cedar Falls came to top-seeded PV and prevailed 28-21 in the quarterfinals, 12th-seeded Kennedy topped fifth-seeded Muscatine and 11th-seeded Waterloo East rocked sixth-seeded Assumption in first-round games.
"It is big night for the MAC; you can't sugarcoat it any other way," PV coach Rusty VanWetzinga said. "It'd be great to get three MAC teams in the quarters."
It has never happened.
In each of the last five seasons, the MVC has produced three of the four quarterfinalists on the eastern half of the state.
"We've taken it on the chin, and it is certainly something that all the MAC coaches are aware of," Assumption coach Wade King said. "I'm sure Rusty and (Bettendorf coach) Aaron (Wiley) are chomping at the bit to prove our league is worthy of anybody in the state.
"I think we are, but we'll find out Monday night."
Often overlooked in the comparison, the MVC is a 14-team league — four more than the MAC — and has a larger population base (approximately 400,000 living in MVC communities versus 216,800 for MAC). The MVC has eight of the 20 largest high schools in Iowa. The MAC has four.
"(The MVC) is a deeper league," VanWetzinga said.
The Valley had 10 schools record at least four wins this season.
"There is good football in the MAC, but I like playing teams outside of the MAC to get a little taste of what's out there," PV fullback T.J. Zerbonia said. "There are some great teams over there."
With that, there is a possibility of moving to district football in 2014 like the western half of the state adopted two years ago.
Todd Tharp of the IHSAA confirmed last week the MAC has sent a note to MVC administrators wanting to at least explore the idea. No discussions are expected to take place until after the season.
"At the very least, we need to look at doing some of the crossover things with the Valley," King said. "We play in a 10-team league where we never get out and see any different styles of football other than what we see in our league.
"Coaches are all creatures of habit, so the only time you see changes in our league is when you get a new coach and new system."
Wiley is in favor of playing new people, but he doesn't want to lose the current playoff seeding structure or have a district model where the first four games are meaningless for playoff positioning. That is the current setup in western Iowa.
"If they can find a way to make all your games count, I'm all for shaking it up," Wiley said. "Otherwise, it is like NFL guys starting in like November."
Bettendorf is 6-3 against the MVC since 2008, the only school in the MAC to have a winning record. Assumption and PV are a collective 2-8.
Wiley doesn't put much thought into the league comparisons.
"I don't care what league people are in right now," he said. "You want to see teams in your league do well, but you look at who you're matched with and do your best to get by them.
"I know all the teams we've seen from the MVC, they're physical and strong. We'll have our hands full."