Districting proposal passes, entire football landscape faces massive change

Joliet Catholic players hold up the Class 5A trophy. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.
Joliet Catholic players hold up the Class 5A trophy. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

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.”


  • Peter J. Fosco

    I am worried about the CPS schools who don’t have the facilities, equipment, Athletic Trainers, Coaching, Administrative support etc. When they are schedule to play high power programs, has anybody stop and though about the increase of injuries and CTE. The NFL is doing everything they can to protect their players and they have the medical staff and facilities to do it. Yet, high school sports and especially CPS doing have anything near of medical personal to protect their players. What about the young athlete’s who are going to play and how are we going to make sure they get all the necessary medical attention that they need as football players. Another issue is with the Officials for Football. We have a huge shortage and a number of them are really not qualified to officiate the new rules on helmet to helmet hits. We need committee to study these problems before moving forward in 2021.

  • Metal Bleachers are Best

    To PistolPete44: You love throwing the CTE topic in irrelevant conversations. Your opinion is very clear – you don’t like football. Inasmuch as you like to follow and comment on football, do us all a favor and no longer read about the sport. Will save you from having a stroke and save us from reading your rambling diatribes.

  • Pat

    It’s time for the private schools to withdraw from the IHSA, form their own organization, offer scholarships, and play their championship games at Soldier Field. The IHSA needs the private schools for more than the private schools need the IHSA.
    Frankly, most of those reading this will be happy to have the private schools leave; the anti-Catholic, anti-christian prejudice is more virulent than ever.
    So, why not just agree to separate?

  • PJ

    It’s time for the private schools to withdraw from the IHSA, form their own organization, offer scholarships, and play their championship games at Soldier Field. The IHSA needs the private schools for more than the private schools need the IHSA.
    Frankly, most of those reading this will be happy to have the private schools leave; the anti-Catholic, anti-christian prejudice is more virulent than ever.
    So, why not just agree to separate?

  • Ralphie

    This is the worst decision in the history of Illinois. No more conferences? Are you kidding me? No more West Suburban conference after 100 years? Just like that, a simple majority vote with 85 abstentions? No more Glenbard West vs Hinsdale Central or Lyons or Oak Park? Really? I played in the West Suburban and followed it for fifty years. Just gone, bang. The IHSA has a death wish which is going to come true if they do this. They better revisit this.

    • Leegs1

      John Stuart Mills once wrote: “Democracy is nothing more than the tyranny of the majority.” Vote taken, votes counted. Maybe the ihsa needs an electoral college. It worked with George W. and Donald Trump, didn’t it??????

  • Metal Bleachers are Best

    To “IL change similar to TX approach!”, there are very, very few similarities between the two associations or plans. Take some time (hours, not minutes) to review the TX association – http://www.uiltexas.org/football. You will then understand the foundational issues in the IL amendment. A few points of clarity to your statement: TX does not simply align by size; and, the playing field is not level in TX. Further, TX does not group Catholic schools together. In 2018, IL football state championships were won by Catholic schools in 4 of the 5 top classes, not 3 of 4 (Cary Grove won in 6A). Believing those results are the result of recruiting is a lack of knowledge. Why have Glenbard West, LWE, Maine South, East St. Louis, Prairie Ridge, Cary Grove, etc., continually succeeded? Commitment, consistency and dedication lead to results, regardless of a public or private school.

    • PistolPete44

      Facts are this. We have a bunch of zealous fathers living their dreams year after year thru their kids in football. Towns proudly wear their superiority and manhood pushing their kids and team to be a legacy team. For that the kids get concussions, have mood swings, headaches, and bruising of their brains so much they now know CTE can and will eventually affect them. We have seen Conferences jimmed up to get in the playoffs. Wake up folks, football is not good for anything but bragging rights. And the 8 classes are a joke. Give it up dad. If you really
      I’ve your kid.

  • IL change similar to TX approach!

    ‪Really…how is this a bad thing. Powerhouse football states like TX put conferences together by size….it works and it levels the playing field!! And, Catholic schools should play in their own league (also similar to TX) to level that playing field, too (since public schools do not recruit…why else would the Catholic schools win 3 of the top 4 IL state championships in 2018?!?!)!!‬. And guess what, TX knows how to make it work geographically at that state is bigger than IL.

  • Metal Bleachers are Best

    The IHSA can’t properly schedule basketball regionals and sectionals, and now they believe they can schedule football games for 800+ schools? They will fail. This isn’t a wish or hope, but ground in reality. To Gene Nudo’s comment regarding the simple majority not applying for certain votes, make amendments carry a simple majority of all member schools. 15% of the member schools either didn’t vote or had no opinion – basically their non-vote endorsed the amendment. Unfortunately, the “football committee” served their individual interests. The additional costs to be borne by the schools (yes, there will be SUBSTANTIAL increased costs), coupled with the demise of traditional rivalries, will quickly lead to the end of the IHSA. The IHSA has handicapped private schools over the past decade; now the IHSA is negatively affecting public schools. Time for a new association that focuses on the students.

  • Ghost of Virgil Livers testicle

    TIime to do away with IHSA . With one awful rule change tradition is gone . Hopefully non boundaried private schools split and form a diffrent non communist organization .

  • HS BBall Fan

    This is just for football not basketball. Everybody calm down. Reading the article.

  • old frank

    I am reading this in Ohio. I can’t believe you are letting these ** get away with this. I grew up in Chicago and went to Mendel in the 50’s. I lived and died with chs football. I’m sure other conference teams have similar feelings. In Ohio we have conference play with district playoffs, an ideal setup. Is this politics or just stupidity?

  • Sadforillinois Fan

    Allstar cps teams are a complete joke. The cute little secret is that everyone knows it. The state tournament is a farce. Gee…I wonder why the finals are half empty. Just remember fans, The IHSA has all the sharpest knives in the drawer. How to wreck the best state tourney in the country. The IHSA has the perfect blueprint.

  • Dee Jay

    Congratulations to Mr. Anderson and the IHSA for wiping out years of conference histories. This is a change for the sake of change, not for better. And more than 51 percent will agree with me.

  • Jokster

    Just don’t ruin wrestling anymore than you guys already have.

  • footballfan

    This is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. In the south suburbs they’ll just be giving a pass to LWE, HF and B-Brook. so that will leave one spot for 7-7 schools to fight for. If the CPS is in the same conference as south suburban schools, we’ll have the same bs that we have now in basketball. for years the IHSA has stated that the goal is statewide representation in the tournaments. However they allow the CPS to game the system year after year. Schools like HF, Bloom, Thornton , Thornwood should not have to face Collections of superstars in the sectional or super sectional . Basketball should go back to the 2 class system ,and the cps should get their champion in the elite eight like it used to be. In my opinion if the IHSA does not take these steps the boys basketball tournament will die.

    • Lefty

      IHSA released some new rules yesterday. Classes will remain intact for 2 years now. I don’t know if CPS games the system, but these charter schools bloat 2A and 3A and a quality 3A team (2A for a 3 class sport) just about gets a bye to the sectional final. I didn’t see many teams bumped due to the success factor, maybe that was altered, maybe not.

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