Illinois High School Association member schools have voted to institute a districting system for football that will begin in 2021.
Conferences will be eliminated. The IHSA will determine playoff classes before the season and break each class into eight or nine team districts based on enrollment and geography. Districts will be set for two years.
Teams will play a nine-week regular season and any non-district regular season games will not count in the district standings. The top four teams in each district qualify for the playoffs.
“It is a historic change,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “The narrow gap in the voting indicates that there are pros and cons that impact our diverse football-playing membership in a multitude of ways. We hope that it will effectively address conference realignment and scheduling concerns, while helping create long-term sustainability and growth for high school football in the state.”
The vote was very close with 324 schools in favor of districting, 307 opposed and 69 having no opinion. Eighty-five percent of schools voted.
“We understand that everyone wants to know what district and class they will be in, but the reality is that we are two years away from being able to tabulate that information,” Anderson said. “Schools will need the next two years to evaluate their participation. Some may choose to join coops or disband coops. Some may choose to play eight-man football. Chicago Public Schools will need to determine what schools it will make playoff eligible, and we will also have non boundaried schools that will change classes in that timeframe as they gain or lose multiplier waivers.”
There will be significant scheduling challenges in districts where CPS and non-CPS schools are together.
“How does that work when a suburban team comes into Gately at 4:15 on a Thursday or Friday,” Phillips coach Troy McAllister said. “That is going to be difficult.”
“In CPS scheduling has not a problem. We have our Week 1 and 2 open but those are typically easier games to find. I understand it has been super difficult for suburban teams to find games because everyone is jumping around and changing conferences trying to get those five wins to qualify for the playoffs.”
The IHSA says the details of the new system will be ironed out by the football advisory committee over the next few years.
Joliet Herald-News sports editor Steve Soucie projected the possible districts back in May.
“I think it is ridiculous, I really do,” Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said. “I don’t understand the reasoning. Is it just because of scheduling and people trying to get wins and all that?”
Under the districting system the Crusaders are unlikely to play their Catholic League rivals.
“That is the beauty of going to Brother Rice and St. Rita, to play those rivalry games,” Badke said. “I’m disappointed in the decision. I feel bad for our kids. They won’t have those rivalry games on Friday night and those experiences they remember for the rest of their life.”
Fenwick coach Gene Nudo expressed his dismay at no longer playing Catholic League football.
“This just gets put in your lap,” Nudo said. “I have no idea who will be in our district. I came here to be part of the Chicago Catholic League and I’ve grown fond of the competition we have. I guess we will get more of a sense of the rest of the area now.”
Nudo said he was surprised the district proposal passed.
“These important votes should never be a simple majority,” Nudo said. “It needs to be 66 percent or something. It is a 17-vote difference and I don’t know if everyone put the same thought process into it.”
Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar has a wait and see attitude.
“Sometimes change is good,” Zvonar said. “I’m a little lukewarm right now. For us I can’t imagine the district will be too much different than the teams in our conference. There is no perfect system. We were a 12-0 team and had to go on the road in the semis. That is loser talk by me, but shows it isn’t a perfect system.”