IHSA takes aim at conference shuffle, eyes new football format

Phillips holds up the Class 5A state trophy at Huskie Stadium, November 25, 2017 Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Conference reshuffling is a near constant, but the pace seems to have picked up even more in the past few years.

Football scheduling is the major driver behind every conference change. Schools prioritize maneuvering into the best possible position to get the five wins necessary to qualify for the playoffs.

That’s understandable. But the constant changes aren’t great for high school sports. Rivalries are destroyed and fan interest decreases when alumni pick up a schedule and see that their school is playing a bunch of teams they have no knowledge of or history with.

The Illinois High School Association’s football advisory committee discussed some significant changes to the sport’s format recently. Nothing is finalized yet, but they are expected to submit a formal proposal for consideration in November.

The committee proposed breaking the state’s football teams into eight or nine team districts. Schools would be placed in districts based on enrollment and geography. There would be eight districts in each playoff class and district standings would determine which teams qualify for the playoffs.

Non-district games would not be factors in playoff qualification. Districts would be reviewed and possibly changed every two years.

The proposal would remove football from the current high school conference landscape and schools could form conferences that make more sense for other sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball.

It also completely eliminates the football scheduling problems that haunt most athletic directors and coaches.

Phillips and Loyola, two of the state’s best teams, have major issues scheduling non-conference games, so theoretically this district fix is something that would help them out. Loyola still hasn’t found a Week 1 opponent for the upcoming season and the Wildcats are traveling to Ohio to play. But neither school is very excited about the plan.

“The difficult part in the city is if the district mix Public League and suburban teams, because of our stadium issues,” Phillips coach Troy McAllister said. “If Evanston is in a district with Taft does that mean Evanston come on at Thursday afternoon to play at Lane at 4 p.m.?

But if you have an all-CPS district then since it is based on enrollment size you would have some major problems with parity, which could create an injury risk.”

McAllister says he’d like to see what the proposed districts look like before making a final judgement on the idea.

Pat Mahoney, Loyola’s athletic director, isn’t a fan of the districting proposal.

“The concept itself I understand,” Mahoney said. “They are trying to solve a problem of people changing conferences. But I think they are going to create other problems.

“I don’t like it from a Chicago Catholic League standpoint. Loyola Academy is not going to be with any Chicago Catholic League teams. That bothers me. It takes away one of the great things about our league. And you lose the history of prestigious things like all-conference teams and the Lawless Award.”


Erick Middleton has taken over in Chicago Heights. He’s a 1998 graduate of Marian Catholic and played at Eastern Michigan. He’s been an assistant at Marian since 2016.

“It is an honor as well as a privilege,” said Middleton. “I know I have my work cut out for me and this will truly be an uphill battle. I can honestly say that I have accomplished one of my longtime dreams.”

Middleton takes over for Sean Mele, who resigned for personal reasons. The Spartans were 0-9 last season.


  • all4trojans

    This new format is nothing but problems. Looking up the districts, there are catholic schools not tied to boundaries in the same district with public schools tied to boundaries. Many of the new districts would have half of the teams more than an hour away making away games very expensive and making it prohibitive for students to get to away games.

    • Paul

      So the fact that their are CPS Magnet Schools means nothing? No boundaries there. Also why do kids have to sit out when they transfer from Catholic to Catholic but they don’t if they transfer from Public to Public?

      • all4trojans

        CPS schools actually have different rules than IHSA in many areas. Several years ago, we had an issue with players eligibility in a game and the IHSA told us to bring it to CPS. As far as transferring, we have had to have transfer players sit for 4 games. Don’t know the exact rules but it may depend on when they transfer.

  • drmal

    8 game regular season and everyone makes the playoffs like in Indiana.

  • PistolPete44

    When they went to 8 classes with only 5 wins they dumbed watered down the accomplishment of those that make the playoffs. It used to have value, now it is nothing more than handing out team trophies to anyone. The real issue is when is the IHSA going to provide every participant updated information about the new findings regarding Sub-Concussive hits that doctors have shown are a danger to all the kids. If you think all the kids playing have any idea of the damage they can cause to their brains by playing football then you are wrong. Each parent and child should be provided this info, they should all have to sign off about the findings. We know the A.D’s and coaches will not inform them, when will the Sun Times force the parties involved to provide this to the public.

    • Wscfantoo

      Have you seen parents at youth games? They could care less.

    • all4trojans

      As a high school coach, you are dead wrong on how we talk to our kids and parents about all injuries including blows to the head.

      • PistolPete44

        Hey mr. Smart high school coach. It’s like this in most locker rooms and practice. What you feed the kids is be tough, Macho, a man, and then sit them down for a few reruns of “Return of the Titans. And lets not forget the upper class men peer pressure to make sure year after year fellow students don’t get second thoughts about coming out for the “Team”. After all, teams do need practice players to bang around. So, you say you do inform the kids of the consequences of playing? Does that include telling them of how their underdeveloped brains will bang back and forth hundreds of times a season causing headaches, mood swings, trouble focusing in class and oh, they will do this and likely never set a day on the College turf let alone Go Pro. Sure, they are informed. Ha ha

        • all4trojans

          Why don’t you give me your name and then I will be able to tell if you have ever been to one of our practices OR in out locker room. Unfortunately, you seem like a person who did not have a great high school experience. We all know few ever will play in college and that is never our focus. We tell parents at our freshman orientation that academic scholarships are easier to achieve than athletic scholarships that should be your child’s goal.
          Again, it sounds like your were picked on in high school and that is a shame. As far as your claims of what we tell the kids and parents, we do have a question and answer period with parents and they are encouraged to ask us anything about any subject (CTE, Steroids, Concussions, Injuries and Hazing etc). I have been coaching a long time and talk to many of my former players some in their 30’s now. Not one of them has ever said they have suffered from the symptoms you claim every football player will suffer from. We talk about it every time we see each other or talk on the phone. Most went on to graduate from college and live very successful lives. You are correct it is a tough game for tough kids and it is not for everyone. If you weren’t tough enough or had a bad coach, sorry. You don’t like the game that is your choice. I

          • PistolPete44

            Coach information man. If you where honest in the info you tell the kids then most if not all would see that they should not be playing this game for the good of their brains. Pretty funny how you cite academics when we all know you do not have to be on the football team to do well in school. What is it you say about the sub oncussions they have discovered leading to the previously mentioned cognitive issues. You never see those appear right away. Is it all worth it to hear “Touchdown Trojans” and then win coach of the year. The culture of football comes across in your defense of the game. Hey pal, do Dave Duerson, or others like him meN anything to you. You do not get it. Football participation is down all across the country. Do not blame me, blame your ignorance of the what we now know about the game and young lives. Rah Rah go Trojans, unless you get the diagnosis of CTE. Most do go on to live successfull lives. I get it, sacrifice a few for the good of the program. You should be agreeing with my statements instead of trying to save the game and your job. You can easily fool young energetic kids into believing nothing is going to happen to their brains because it will be down the road. You can even convince parents it everything will be fine and likely it will never affect the kids brains. But that does not excuse you into what I think we know you know, that is you are using them to get your satisfaction of being a winning coach and what winning school. Sad.

        • all4trojans

          Yes we cite academics because we stress them to our players as part of being a well-rounded person. I am curious since you seem to know everything about the football culture and CTE (which can’t be detected until an autopsy is performed); is your crusade only against football? Do you speak the same way about hockey, soccer, MMA, Wrestling, Golden Gloves, Lacrosse and the X-games (Dave Mira a bike rider committed suicide and was discovered to have CTE). He never played a down of football. See, it is not just the hits to the head it is the jostling of the brain when the body stops suddenly and the brain continues to move as it will in most sports. You bring up Dave Duerson, how many millions have played the game and how many have ended up like Dave? I know literally thousands of guys who played football from HS to a few who were in the NFL; not one regrets playing or has any symptoms that you spoke of.
          As for saving my job, I do not work in the school (my career is outside of the school system) and have not taken a check for coaching for over a decade. Again, I am sorry you were not tough enough to play the game or got picked on by the football team but if you are going to go after football do a little more research and go after all the other sports as well.

          • PistolPete44

            Google the latest findings on sub concussive hits that have been verified to cause CTE currently and down the road. It does not have to be a concussion. It came n the heels of the recommendations for kids 12 and under to not play contact football. I guess your informing of the kids and parents missed this latest findings. This is why I pointed out the lack of information by the IHSA and schools and coaches is not happing. As far as other sports, it is no where near the same exposure that kids get from the sub conducive bagging of the brain before the brain is fully grown. It’s like this, science is day by day proving that it is harmful for kids to play football. Former players , pro players even telling you they do not want their kids to play now knowing what we know. Do all of us a favor, kids included, instead of “Return of the Titan”. Lets show the kids the first day of Practice the movie “Concussion”, and inform them of what is pretty obvious.

    • all4trojans

      Re-read what I said; I never stated it was concussions. The damage comes from the brain moving around inside the skull due to contact as well as when the head is snapped around and the brain keeps moving.
      I think you watch too many movies if you think the football culture from “Remember the Titans” which took place in the70’s is the same as 2018. By the way, I was all for the legislation for non-contact for kids under 12.

      • PistolPete44

        The “Remember the Titans” movie is used to motivate the kids to play. Wake up, like I said even former pro players are keeping their kids out of football. Have you ever watched the movie “Concussion”. Go google Dr. James Brodie, a doctor that takes care of people that have had too many football hits. The only reason you do not want to admit anything is because you just love to coach and really, that is sad. Just because it is a fun game to watch and play does not change what we all are finding out, it is bad for the brains of young people.

        • all4trojans

          I have never shown my kids a movie to motivate them. I expect them to motivate themselves through hard work and their love of the game. Stop acting like you know everything about high school football since you have proven time and time again you know nothing. You constantly site quotes about all of these players – I have heard a lot more say their kids play then have said they won’t let their kids pay. You are so against the game of football but yet say it is fun to watch. If you really believed what you spewed you would never watch the game. If you watch any of it – your are a hypocrite.

          • PistolPete44

            I never said I knew a lot about high school football. I said I know a lot about the truth of the damage football does to young brains. Sure, a lot more parents want their kids to play than do not want their kids to play. They like you are the uniformed which brings us back to the main point I have said all along. The IHSA, coaches, A.D.’s and schools need to give the kids the updated information about the harm of football to young brains. Dr. Brodie says they are really close to wing able to zero in with an MRI showing the damage that occurs when you bounce a kids brain around before it is fully developed. Wake up macho coach, the days are numbered for the game and you do not want to accept it. It is fun to watch, but not at the expense of the kid. You have to be able to visualize as if the skull was see thru. If you could, you would understand how bad it is. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it is not harming the child.

        • all4trojans

          Well little pistol I study a hell of a lot more about this than you ever have. And you HAVE stated several times about what high school coaches do- which you have no idea. Finally, I guess if I am a macho coach that further proves my point that you were just never tough enough for the game and got picked on. Again, have you looked into other sports who are suffering from CTE or just bitter because you were too much of a whimp to play the game.

          • PistolPete44

            What is with the lil pistol put down? Are you running out of reasons to let kids hurt their brains so you resort to n you tell me I am not tough enough for you to respect? Do yourself a favor, your kids a favor, just read more on what doctors are finding out and maybe you will see the harm the game is doing to kids. You big tuff guy. There, does it feel really good to have me call you a big tough guy,

        • all4trojans

          Look through your posts… you were the one labeling. This comes down to one question. Is this a crusade against all sports that may cause CTE and CTE itself (which I can respect) or is it a crusade against just football (which is what your posts seem to point to)? BTW, I have been telling you weren’t tough enough the entire time.

          • PistolPete44

            Sure CTE happens in other sports but it is so tiny in comparison to playing football. I am not the person doing the crusade against football, I am just the one that has now made you aware it is happening. NFHS numbers across the nation show participation rates down 25% from just a few years ago. Why is that do you think? The comments you made that I am just not tough enough were expected. You sound like a real football coach.

  • Stuart Shiffman

    The problem is fairly simple. Five wins is too easy. I would expand the season to 10 games and then set up districts where you need at least 6 wins to make the play-offs. This is a compromise that gives schools one additional game but eliminates the first week where many teams get crushed in the first round.

  • Vic th or

    Yes I saw our high school schedule I noticed a lot of changes as to who they face in the regular season

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