Ironton leaving OVC in football only in 2024

Published 1:33 am Thursday, January 19, 2023

By Jim Walker

The Ironton Fighting Tigers will make their farewell tour during the 2023 football season.

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Ironton will be playing football in the Ohio Valley Conference for the last time — as of now — in the upcoming season after agreeing to exit the league in football only.

There is an agreement that Ironton’s return to the league in football can be revisited in three years.

Ironton’s dominance in football caused concern with some schools that not only was it hard for them to compete, but because football is such a physical game the Fighting Tigers not only beat up on teams on the scoreboard but caused a lot of injuries.

Smaller enrollments have created smaller rosters and made it difficult to not only have a varsity team of upperclassmen but caused a problem fielding reserve teams.

With some schools exploring a move to another league that would make them more competitive, Ironton talked with other league teams and elected to step aside and play an independent schedule beginning in 2024 in order to keep the conference in tack.

The Fighting Tigers will open the 2024 season with Wheelersburg and Jackson and close with Fairland, Gallipolis and Portsmouth once they exit the OVC which means they will need to fill the schedule with five other schools.

There has been some overtures about trying to play Raceland but there are problems scheduling Kentucky schools due to their mandatory district games.

West Virginia is a possibility but because of the ranking system in the state, teams don’t like to play down in size because it can hurt their rankings. A school like Huntington might like to play, but as one of the biggest schools in the state it would hurt their ranking since Ironton is considered a Class AA program.

So why not schedule a Class AA team? If Ironton is good enough to play Class 3-A teams, the 2-A teams would be very hesitant to schedule the Fighting Tigers.

Another problem is trying to schedule teams because of their league commitments. Most teams play their league games in weeks 4-10. Ironton might want to play a team like Western Brown, but they may have league games and during weeks 3-7.

Ironton could look to teams like Bishop Hartley or Columbus St. Francis DeSales since they have trouble with scheduling, but not only are those D4, D3 and D2 teams, it would require a lot of travel.

The SOC had initiated talks with OVC schools Coal Grove, Rock Hill, Chesapeake and South Point. The SOC was considering a plan of three divisions in football if there was more expansion.

Ironton has expressed an interest in the SOC and there has been some interest by the SOC. There is talks that Ironton and Portsmouth West have agreed to play.

Coal Grove, Chesapeake and South Point were members of the SOC prior to becoming members of the OVC in 1950. Ironton St. Joseph was also a former member of the SOC, left the league and returned.

The OVC was operating with just five schools before adding Ironton, Portsmouth and Gallipolis in 2015.

Ironton won the league title in football in 2015 and 2016, and then again in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.