Forgive the 5A and 4A Inland Empire League football coaches if they’re just a little giddy these days.
The 2014 season is eight months away but the IEL has scored a couple of victories already.
The first came when the Idaho High School Activities Association board of directors voted to expand the 5A and 4A playoffs from eight-team formats to 12 teams. That means two 5A IEL and two 4A IEL teams will advance to the state playoffs beginning in the fall.
For the first time in 20 years, just one 5A IEL team was able to earn a state berth last year because the IHSAA took a berth away to give to the 10-team Southern Idaho Conference in the Boise area.
A year ago, CdA coach Shawn Amos proposed the expanded 12-team format for 5A. But the schools were in the middle of a two-year scheduling cycle so it didn’t fly.
With the SIC expanding to two six-team divisions next fall, it got behind the 12-team proposal because it meant half of its teams would make the playoffs. Three of six eastern Idaho schools also advance to the playoffs under the new format.
That leaves one open spot. It means there’s a possibility that a third team from the 5A IEL could earn a playoff berth. A seventh from the SIC and a fourth from eastern Idaho also could make the playoffs.
“It’s the first time in my 15 years as an athletic director that we’ve had consensus in all three regions of the state on something,” CdA athletic director and IHSAA board member Todd Gilkey said. “It just doesn’t happen.”
The criteria for deciding the final berth must be decided soon, Gilkey said.
The same must happen in 4A. But the 4A schools have decided to use MaxPreps’ rating system to decide the 12th berth, Gilkey said.
IHSAA executive director John Billetz couldn’t be happier with the expanded playoffs.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Billetz said.
The other good news for the IEL was the Greater Spokane League’s decision last month to move into 4A and 3A divisions, thus opening up nonleague dates. That’s something the 4A GSL coaches and IEL coaches have longed for.
Lake City filled three of its openings with Lewis and Clark, Central Valley and Shadle Park. CdA picked up games with Ferris and CV along with Moses Lake from the Big Nine. Post Falls added University and Moses Lake. Post Falls would have sought other games with the GSL but it had already agreed to games with other schools.
4A Sandpoint picked up games with U-Hi and Mt. Spokane.
GSL athletic directors sent signals to IEL officials in early November that their schedules could open up. Then they followed up in early December saying they weren’t going to change things. So the change of direction in early January caught IEL officials off guard.
In recent years, most of the IEL schools still had holes in their schedules in early February.
“We get to play good football teams and it’s dramatically less travel,” Amos said.
Consider CdA’s early schedule last fall. The Vikings opened with a game in the Portland area, trekked to Seattle for a game and took a 10-hour trip to Pocatello for another game.
“We got two gifts in one year,” LC athletic director Jim Winger said. “That’s quite special for 5A North Idaho football. To only be looking for one more game this time of the year is comforting.”
LC had the option of playing CV or traveling eight hours to Hillcrest in Idaho Falls.
“It was a no brainer,” Winger said.
Winger said there was a third gift. The GSL and IEL schools that have agreed to play each other also added junior varsity and freshman games with the same schools.
“It makes life a lot easier,” LC coach Van Troxel said of the changes. “There have been a couple of times in the last 20 years when our third-best team would have done well in the playoffs.”
Troxel’s team finished second behind eventual state champ CdA last fall but had to stay home. This despite the fact that LC handed Washington 4A state champ Chiawana its lone loss.
“We were better this year than our team that made it to the semifinals the year before,” Troxel said.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.