I am so lazy. So freaking lazy. First post since my birthday and that was 36 days ago. Pillory me if you must. Actually, pillory me because I’m asking you to. I deserve it.
As I was lounging in my room at the Sheraton West Des Moines (sixth stay here in 13 months), I discovered the Iowa High School Athletic Association was televising its football state championship games live on the Fox affiliate for Central Iowa. I’m sure it was going out to affiliates in the Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Sioux City and Omaha, where there’s Council Bluffs and several other sizable communities on the east bank of the Missouri River.
Iowa has played its football title games at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. The school has a domed stadium for football and basketball which seats a little over 16,000. It’s obviously not big enough for college football at the highest level, but UNI plays one level below Iowa and Iowa State, so it’s perfect for the Panthers. It was the stadium where Kurt Warner shot to stardom as UNI’s quarterback from 1990-93 before going on to become an Arena Football League legend with the Iowa Barnstormers, and later, the Pro Football Hall of Fame gunslinger most football fans knew from his years with the Rams and Cardinals.
Since the UNI Dome opened in 1976, the IHSAA has held its football championship games. Makes perfect sense, as Iowa gets pretty nippy in late November. Today’s temperature in Waterloo, which is Cedar Falls’ larger sister city just to the east, is minus-6 C (21 F). BRRRRRR for most; for me, not too bad.
Fans from all corners of the state descend upon Cedar Falls every November for two days of excitement. It has to be a thrill for kids from small farm towns throughout the Hawkeye State to play on a big stage together with the big schools from Des Moines and the other big cities, even if it isn’t quite what it might be at Ames or Iowa City. I understand the IHSAA’s reasoning for putting the games under climate control. Makes it fairer for all participants, and is the most comfortable for fans. And playing on live TV is something these young men may never experience again.
Meanwhile, the high school playoffs in my home state are in the semifinals, which will be played tonight under some of the coldest temperatures in many years for Kansas high school games.
The EIGHTEEN (that’s right, 18) winners tonight advance to the finals, which will be next Saturday in EIGHT locations.
Let me repeat: nine games in EIGHT locations.
Holy Mother of God.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association introduced state playoffs in 1969. From that season through 1982, the home team in championship games was determined by a formula taking into account how many games each team had hosted prior to the final and which side of the state hosted in the previous season. Records had zero to do with it.
This formula was used in most states throughout the 1970s.
Missouri ditched it in 1978 to start holding all the title games in one place, and it has moved around between St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City and Springfield through the years.
Three years later, Louisiana moved all of its games to the Louisiana Superdome (as it was known then; now the Caesar’s Superdome).
In Texas, it wasn’t until Jerry Jones opened his palace in Arlington known as AT&T Stadium that the University Interscholastic League of Texas moved its 11-man title games to one spot. Six-man games were still being held at Abilene, which was fine because there are few, if any, 6-man schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas, but they eventually got in on the action at Jerry World.
Prior to 2009, teams which reached the final would usually agree on a neutral site, which often was the Astrodome in Houston, Texas Stadium in Irving, Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin (Texas) and Kyle Field in College Station (Texas A&M). Baylor’s old home in Waco, Floyd Casey Stadium, saw some games, as did Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth (TCU) and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
In 1983, the KSHSAA agreed to move all championship games to a neutral site.
That was good news.
The bad news? There would be multiple sites for the games.
The KSHSAA steadfastly refused to stage its title games on multiple days, so it required the use of three stadiums in 1983 to make sure they were all played the Saturday after Thanksgiving (except in 1983 and ’84, Class 1A, which was down to very few 11-man schools, played their title game the week before Thanksgiving because their playoffs consisted of only four teams).
The two largest classifications played at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The next three 11-man classes played at Kansas State in Manhattan. Both 8-man title games (1983 was the first season of two divisions in 8-man) were at Russell High. That’s right, the school about two kilometers from my house.
In 1989, the system was slightly modified. Wichita State began to host three 11-man games, while the other two alternated between Lawrence and Manahttan. The 8-man games moved to Hays in 1990. This held up through 1993.
This changed a lot in 1994. A fourth site, Emporia, was added for 4A only, while 3A and 2-1A moved to Hays. The top two classifications were either in Manhattan or Lawrence, while 8-man moved to Salina.
From 2001-03, there were five sites total. Eight-man moved back to Russell in 2002.
In 2004, each of the five 11-man finals were held at different sites for the first time since 1982. This became permanent in 2006. Russell lost 8-man to Newton in 2006, where it remains to this day.
In 2008, a Kansas state senator proposed a bill which would have forced the KSHSAA to move all championship games to either Lawrence or Manhattan. Rick Bowden, a former state representative and then an assistant executive director of the KSHSAA, testified against the bill.
I understand that KU and K-State now have to have their stadiums available Thanksgiving weekend. The college football regular season extends through November for all major schools, with the first weekend of December reserved for the conference championship games. Army-Navy is the exception; it’s on the second weekend of December to maximize the television audience.
Yet somehow, Missouri and Nebraska each were able to reach compromises with their flagship universities to hold championship games on their campuses.
Nebraska has moved its title games to the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week at the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium (6-man is held the Friday before Thanksgiving in Kearney, since nearly all 6-man schools are west of US Highway 281, which runs through Grand Island and Hastings). All of the games at Lincoln will be televised live by Nebraska Educational Television.
Missouri splits its title games over two weekends. Eight-man and Class 6, the largest classifications, go first on Thanksgiving weekend. The games are Friday when Missouri’s season finale vs. Arkansas is in Fayetteville (odd years) or Saturday when the game is in Columbia (even years). The other four championship games are split over the first Friday and Saturday of December.
If two neighboring states can work things out, why can’t Kansas?
Three of Kansas’ nine championship games will be held at Division II universities. Two will be held at junior colleges which double as a high school stadiums. Four, including both 8-man games, will be at high school stadiums.
If you want to see two games, you’ll have to go to Newton for 8-man. Otherwise, it’s one and only one.
Those who wish to watch the games from the comfort of their living room will have to shell out $11.99 for a streaming subscription to NFHS Network, operated by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
There is no excuse for the KSHSAA to continue this outdated and boneheaded system. If the Big 12 is going to keep KU-K-State on the final weekend of the regular season–and there is no reason it won’t–one stadium will be available.
Another great option is Children’s Mercy Park in KCK, home of Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer. Unless SKC is playing for the MLS Cup (don’t get me started on MLS using playoffs to determine a champion), then it will be available. Fans can also do Christmas shopping at the Legends Plaza and eat at Whataburger.
Don’t give me the B.S. about it being unfair to western Kansas. Teams from north Louisiana get excited about playing on the same field which has hosted the Saints since 1975 and seven Super Bowls, even if it is more than 480 km (300 miles) from home. Same with those from south and west Texas about Jerry World.
If KU and K-State are both in use and the KSHSAA won’t consider CH, work around it. If the KSHSAA is worried about it affecting basketball and wrestling, then either move the football season up a week to match the start dates in Missouri and Nebraska, or move basketball and wrestling back a week. With the KSHSAA allowing only 20 basketball games and counting tournament games towards the total (most states count tournaments as one allowable game, not three), there are too many open dates. Not that hard. Then again, there are some pretty hard-headed people at the KSHSAA office in southwest Topeka.
I realize this will never happen in my lifetime. SMH.