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Major changes coming to IHSA football in 2021

  • Major changes to Illinois high school football's scheduling format are coming in 2021.

    Major changes to Illinois high school football's scheduling format are coming in 2021.
    Justin Walker Photo

 
By Kevin Schmit and Justin Walker
updated: 12/19/2018 3:46 AM

Sweeping changes are coming to the Illinois high school football landscape.

On Tuesday, the Illinois High School Association announced its member schools voted by a margin of 324-307 to approve amendment proposal No. 23, which will completely overhaul the regular season and playoffs for football beginning in 2021. Sixty-nine schools voted "no opinion" on the proposal, and 118 schools did not vote.

The proposal eliminates conferences for football only and replaces them with "districts" to be formed by the IHSA based on enrollment and geography. Eight playoff classes and a nine-week regular season remain in effect, although schools will know which class they are in before the season begins.

For smaller schools, like Du Quoin which currently competes in Class 3A and the SIRR Mississippi Division that is comprised of mostly fellow 3A schools, the changes might be minimal.

"I'm surprised that it passed," said Du Quoin athletic director Derek Beard. "We did vote for the proposal. I don't think it will change our schedule drastically."

There are a lot of questions about the plan still to be answered.

"I'm curious as to what is going to happen now because that was never laid out really in detail before people voted," said Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg, whose team won the Class 6A state title last month. "In some ways we were voting for something and we didn't really know exactly what it was going to look like. I'm just hoping what ends up happening is something that can work for all the teams that are in it."

Each of the eight classes will have eight districts filled by schools determined by the IHSA. Districts schools will play a round-robin schedule, while remaining "non-district" games will be scheduled by individual schools and won't count toward playoff qualification.

"We want to create a challenging non-district schedule," Beard said. "It will be challenging because we don't know who will be in our district."

Teams finishing in the top four of the standings in each district will qualify for the playoffs. There is no playoff expansion: 32 qualifiers per class for a total of 256 qualifiers.

"It is a historic change," said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. "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."

Proponents of the proposal look forward to the reduction of scheduling struggles for non-conference games that arise because of the overwhelming need to find opponents that make it easier to reach the playoffs. Several schools have been forced to find out-of-state opponents to fill their schedules.

Another aim is to decrease the amount of conference shuffling that occurs when schools leave one league for another. Many believe such moves are directly related to improving chances to qualify for the football playoffs.

Opponents of the proposal believe the change is too drastic and will destroy the tradition established in many of the state's conferences. Under the district proposal, schools still will have flexibility for non-district scheduling but only for a couple games.

The reaction to the proposal's approval was joyful at Marion High School, where scheduling in Class 5A outside of the South Seven Conference has been a constant challenge.

"We are happy to hear that 'Prop 23' has officially passed," said MHS athletic director Ryan Goodisky. "We feel that this will help us with travel issues, overall budgeting, but most importantly scheduling stability."

Marion football coach Kerry Martin has previously said he will retire before the 2021 season when the proposal goes into effect, although those plans might have changed with Tuesday's announcement.

"I think it will certainly be a benefit to some schools but I'm sure other schools feel like the old system is better for them," Martin said. "There is no easy solution to the Illinois football playoff problem but I like the fact they are trying something different. It doesn't matter what solution they come up with -- there are always going to be pros and cons."

Like his own future, Martin foresees the IHSA's plans possibly changing as time goes along. And his peers sent him mixed reactions.

"I know coaches that are excited about it and I know coaches that are pretty upset but that's the way it is with every solution we've ever tried for the postseason dilemma," Martin said. "What I like most about it is that you're playing teams your size in your area without dramatic travel issues for your players or for your fans."