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Wahlert, Xavier Move to Class 3A Football

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Keith McSweeney may have had other thoughts, but he chose to keep them to himself. The Solon athletics director was the king of political correctness.

"You'll get nothing controversial out of me," he said with a laugh.

McSweeney was asked what he thought the impact would be of Cedar Rapids Xavier, Dubuque Wahlert and Davenport Assumption playing Class 3A football next season. That seeming inevitability was all but confirmed Monday afternoon.

"I just see it as another challenge," McSweeney said. "We can sit around and complain about it, or we can step up our game."

Iowa High School Athletic Association Executive Director Rick Wulkow said Wahlert has officially informed the IHSAA it will move down from Class 4A, as is its right because of enrollment. Cedar Rapids Xavier AD Mike Winker said Monday his school would only stay 4A if the Mississippi Valley Conference remained "as is."

Wahlert's declaration ended that possibility. Assumption's administration was still meeting late Monday night to determine its ultimate football fate.

You'd have to think it will go the 3A route as well. It looks like it's farewell to the MVC and Mississippi Athletic Conferences, hello to 4A district football on this side of the state.

"It has been a requirement for the last 22 years, six at Regis and 16 here at Xavier, that we had to play up (in football) to remain in the MVC (in all sports)," Winker said. "In the last couple of months, that requirement was dropped ... We don't tell our other programs they have play up."

Xavier and Assumption have two of the best 4A football programs in the state, with both qualifying regularly for the postseason. Xavier won the 4A championship in 2006 and was runner-up the past two seasons.

There were 86 juniors and seniors on the Saints roster this season, more than double most of the other schools in the Metro, though Winker said those numbers project down moving forward. He was asked about the possible financial aspects of a move to 3A as well.

"Playing Linn-Mar and Kennedy every year, that was a huge part of our revenue," he said. "But, frankly, there are other schools in 4A that don't travel real well. We know there are many schools in 3A that do. Then there is the travel aspect, of course. There were seasons when we left the city maybe once or twice. That will change. But with anything new, you want to see how it goes."

The same is being said by Xavier's new classmates. If you are looking for parallels, consider Sioux City Heelan.

The Crusaders dropped to 3A in 2007, have made the playoffs every year, advanced to the quarterfinals every year but one, have two championships and three runner-up finishes.

Many believe those will be the destinies for Xavier and Assumption.

"Obviously, with Assumption and Xavier's track records over the years, it will be much more competitive in 3A, that's for sure," said West Delaware AD Mike Morrison. "Is it fair? ... That's not for me to decide. They tell us who we play, and we just strap it on and play them."

"I think there is a lot of concern, not only from the 3A coaches around the state, but football coaches in general," said Williamsburg AD and football coach Curt Ritchie. "More so than I have ever heard before."

Ritchie said he believes momentum for an enrollment "multiplier" for private schools is higher than it has been, particularly coming off a season in which five of the six state football champions were private schools. In a multiplier, a private school's enrollment is multiplied by a pre-determined number (1.5, for instance), with that number used for determining which class it plays.

It is used by some states as a way to offset perceived recruiting, though those talked to Monday said they believe advantages for private schools in Iowa are more socio-economic in nature.

"The state told us they would listen to multiplier proposals, which they have never done before," Ritchie said. "They also made it perfectly clear that it would not impact these coming district assignments for the next two years."

Knowing that, how will 4A football on this side of the state look now? That has yet to be determined, though the guess is there will be only 21 teams in 2014 and 2015.

Iowa City West AD Scott Kibby has been working on "hybrid" schedules, with possible districts of five, five, five and six teams. If the Eastern Iowa schools cannot schedule their own games, the IHSAA would step in, as it has the past two years for the 24 4A schools in Western and Central Iowa.

"It would be premature for me to comment on what might happen," Wulkow said.

He added the IHSAA will need to know by the beginning of the new year if it needs to make schedules.

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