More changes could be coming to Iowa high school football’s classification structure.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday that an amendment factoring in socioeconomic status to the IHSAA’s current football classifications will be voted on this month.
The IHSAA’s classification committee recommended a new model that reduces 40% of a school’s free-and-reduced-priced lunch count from its annual enrollment to determine its final classification number. The Minnesota State High School League is currently using a similar model.
The recommendation, for football only, was approved Monday by the IHSAA’s Board of Control. If voted on by all IHSAA member schools — voting will be conducted via email between Dec. 16-22 — the amendment will then be submitted to the Iowa State Board of Education for approval. If approved, the new model would go into effect starting in the 2023-24 school year.
“I want to commend the IHSAA classification committee, the board of control, and the IHSAA staff for their important work on this study and resulting recommendation,” said IHSAA executive director Tom Keating in a statement. “Our schools have asked us to consider socioeconomic factors in classification and the IHSAA, after much study and discussion, is pleased to offer such a strategy.”
The IHSAA has had many internal conversations about classification over the last several years. The 40%-free-and-reduced lunch model was the first idea that proposed an adjustment to a school’s enrollment figures, the IHSAA said. The conversations primarily centered on football.
As an example, if a school’s 9-11 enrollment for the upcoming school year is 1,000, and the district’s free-and-reduced-lunch percentage is 37%, then that school would reduce its total enrollment by 148 kids, giving them an IHSAA classification number of 852.
From 2019:Iowa high school sports: Should poverty be used as a measurement of fairness in determining opponents?
Should the amendment pass, schools would need to submit their free-and-reduced lunch percentages through the Department of Education to receive the adjustment. The IHSAA anticipates that it would impact roughly 35-45 schools.
Currently, classifications for all sports, both through the IHSAA and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, are determined solely using school enrollment figures, but there’s been a years-long conversation about Iowa’s current sports classification models.
In 2019, Des Moines Public Schools asked both the IHSAA and IGHSAU to consider changing their sports classification structure, primarily because of the Des Moines city school football program’s long-documented struggles against their suburban peers. From 2008 through 2021, DMPS football teams lost 134 consecutive games to other Polk and Dallas County large-class schools, by an average score of 50-10.
On Tuesday, when reached by the Register, DMPS applauded the potential move by the IHSAA. They believe this proposal would impact at least one, possibly two, DMPS high schools, sending North from 5A to 4A and possibly Hoover from 4A to 3A.
“Equity has long been a top priority at Des Moines Public Schools, not only in the classroom but also as it applies to athletics and other opportunities for our students,” Phil Roeder, DMPS’s director of communications and public affairs, wrote in an email to the Register.
“This change, if approved, would be one step in the right direction to begin addressing this important issue and recognizing that socioeconomic factors can have an impact on student-athletes, no matter the size of their school.”
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In 2021, the IHSAA added a seventh football class in the hopes of reducing the disparity in enrollment in the state’s largest football class. Iowa’s 36 largest high schools make up Class 5A. The next 36 are in 4A, the next 36 in 3A. The next 48 make up 2A. The next 48 make up 1A. All remaining 11-player football teams are in Class A.
“The overwhelming majority of communication regarding concerns with competitive equity referenced football,” Keating said. “Additionally, football is the only sport in which the regular season is scheduled by the IHSAA. In all other sports, individual schools, through conference affiliation or their non-conference opponents, determine their own regular season schedules.
“We will continue to study other sports to determine if this model should be applied.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.