Districts to replace conferences in HS football

Mike Landis, Editor
Mid-County and football teams across the state could see plenty of new faces on the schedule in 2021 as IHSA member schools approved eliminating conferences and adopting district scheduling.

The Illinois High School Association member schools approved 11 new proposals Tuesday, and one will forever change the landscape of football in the state.

By a narrow margin of 324 in favor and 307 opposed, Proposal 23 — which directs the IHSA to implement district football scheduling and does away with conference affiliations — was approved.

“It is a historic change,” said IHSA executive director Craig Anderson in a press release. “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.”

District scheduling will begin with the 2021 season, so for football purposes, the Lincoln Trail Conference will only be in existence for two more seasons.

“I think the next couple of years are going to be awfully interesting,”said Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart. “We’re just going to keep working hard and see where the chips fall. Nobody’s hitting the panic button yet.”

In an interview for a story in last week’s Galva News, Denhart voiced his opposition to Proposal 23. He admitted to being “kind of shocked” with the proposal’s passage, noting most of the coaches he talked to in the area and the eastern part of the state also were opposed to district scheduling.

Here are the highlights of Proposal 23:

n A 9-week regular season.

n Playoff classes determined in advance of the season.

n Schools from each class placed into eight geographic groups by the IHSA office to play a round-robin schedule.

n The remaining games on the regular season schedule will be arranged by the individual schools at their discretion.

The out-of-district games will not count toward playoff qualification.

n The top four teams in each of the eight groups qualify for the playoffs.

Beginning in 2021, the IHSA will assign football teams to eight- or nine-team groupings (districts) based on classification and geography. Previously, schools did not officially know their postseason classification until the completion of the regular season.

The IHSA will assign each school’s regular- season games against their district opponents. Districts will be set for two years, allowing home and away scheduling within the district. Schools will have the autonomy to schedule their non-district opponents for any open weeks. The district assigning process will be similar to how schools are assigned to regionals and sectionals in other IHSA sports and activities.

“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,” said Anderson. “Because IHSA districts will operate on a two-year cycle, schools will need the next two years to evaluate their participation. Some may choose to join co-ops or disband co-ops. 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 time frame as they gain or lose multiplier waivers.”

“This is the third time (2009, 2014) that a football district proposal has been brought forward to our membership and each time the support has grown,” added Anderson. “It is based on a concept that other state high school associations have used successfully, and we are committed to doing our part to make it successful here in Illinois. The beauty of our legislative system is that our member schools will have input in that process and the ability to offer recommendations on tweaks and changes as we progress.”

Denhart’s Mid-County roster numbers figure to drop somewhat next season as more than 20 seniors suited up for the Cougars in 2018, but he doubts the program would consider going the eight-man football route.

“You never say never, but Ithink we’ll be okay,”Denhart said. “I think the numbers would have to be really low to leave 11-man football for eight-man football.”

One program making the move to eight-man is North Fulton. The Wildcats are part of the Prairieland Conference, so their departure for eight-man football will have an impact on the crossover scheduling between the Lincoln Trail and Prairieland conferences for the first two games of the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

According to the IHSArelease, a more definitive timeline on the future release dates of districts and schedules will be developed in conjunction with the IHSA Football Advisory Committee over the course of the 2019-20 school year.