Most of the state’s 342 high school football teams will begin holding pre-season practices next week, although a few teams that play their first game on August 23 are getting started this week. All of the teams will need to follow new guidelines put in place by the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
IHSAA Assistant Executive Director Todd Tharp says the biggest change may be the order of no more than one practice per day. “I think it has been a fairly common thing for some of veteran coaches to hold a morning practice and then come back in the evening for another practice,” Tharp says.
“We have also seen a lot of coaches going to one practice per day because they have kids from rural areas and it’s difficult to get those kids in and out from where they live.” That one practice must not exceed three hours in length. Tharp says that mandate applies only to “physical activity,” so a practice could go longer.
“They could take players (inside) to educate them and maybe watch a bit of game film…they might actually be there for three-and-a-half hours, but the key is three hours of physical activity,” Tharp says. Most of the changes to the pre-season rules in Iowa are based on safety concerns and follow national guidelines on the issue.
Tharp says “full contact” with pads was previously allowed on day four or the pre-season, but the new rule allows full contact on day six. “The national research is showing…we weren’t giving the kids enough time,” Tharp says. “So, the first couple days they can go in helmets. On days three, four, and five, they can wear helmets and shoulder pads.”
For the first time this year, teams are allowed to hold a scrimmage with another school after 10 days of practice and prior to their first game. “It’s going to be a coach’s discretion. Some might not want to do that,” Tharp says. “Others might want to take that opportunity to scrimmage against (a team) that they’re obviously not going to see during the regular season.”
Many football coaches, particularly in some of Iowa’s smaller schools, have been pushing for such a scrimmage game for years — to take the place of an intrasquad game. “A lot of our small schools might only have 18 kids out for high school football, grades 9-12. Obviously, if you don’t have 22, it’s tough to scrimmage,” Tharp says.
“Also, you might have an intrasquad scrimmage with the varsity against the JV squad…well, juniors and seniors going against freshman…you might not get a whole lot out of that scrimmage.”
Another change involves post-season play. The UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls will only be used for the semifinal and championship games.
Tharp says that will eliminate 8:45 p.m. start times on a weekday for a playoff game, which had some players getting home well after midnight.
The Cedar Falls Tigers, however, will continue to play their home games in the UNI-Dome.