The Illinois high school football season kicks off this week. Unfortunately, my excitement is a bit tempered this year given that this season and the next one could be the final seasons of IHSA regular season football as we know them.
Conference games have long been a part of what makes Friday nights special. Whether it's the Chicago Catholic League, the East Suburban Catholic Conference or the West Suburban Conference, there are many long-standing rivalries that would likely become extinct if the IHSA has its way.
Last fall, in an attempt to stem the constant movement of schools changing leagues in order to make it easier to gain the five wins required for playoff consideration, the IHSA board of directors proposed abolishing conferences for football purposes beginning in 2021. The proposal was voted on by the schools and passed by a small margin. Instead of conferences, the IHSA will now determine a school's final seven season opponents based on geographical districts. The first two games will still be scheduled by the schools. Needless to say, many coaches aren't happy with this development.
"I hope it doesn't happen," OPRF coach John Hoerster said. "To look at leagues that have been around for a long time - like the Catholic League, East Suburban Catholic and the West Suburban Silver, these are some great, history-rich conferences with some great rivalries. There are some great relationships that have formed with the coaches. We get to spend a lot of time together in preseason and postseason meetings and at clinics. The thought of that being no longer in existence is sad to me.
"In the West Suburban Silver, we have a great group of coaches, teams and rivalries that have been going on for a long time," Hoerster added. "That would be dissolved by this plan. It's unfortunate because I don't think this solves any of the problems that have been brought forward.
"There are some different ways [the IHSA] could go about it. But at the end of the day, if this is what we have to do, we have to do. For me, it'd be sad looking forward to future schedules and not seeing schools that we've had fun battling with."
Fenwick coach Gene Nudo isn't a proponent of the scheduling changes either.
"It's disappointing to me," Nudo said. "I like coaching in the Chicago Catholic League. Nothing personal against the other schools [in a proposed district], but I feel Fenwick needs to play schools like Fenwick."
I get that the IHSA wants to stop the constant movement of schools from league to league. But as Hoerster said, there are better remedies than abolishing conferences.
One possible solution would be to raise the minimum number of wins required for playoff consideration from five to six - as it used to be. Six would make a school merely eligible; seven would be an automatic bid. Yes, this change would likely necessitate a reduction in the number of classes from eight to six, but I'd be willing to live with that trade-off in order to ensure that traditional conference rivalries continue.
The IHSA's long-standing motto is "Do What's Right." But it isn't doing the kids and communities right with this district plan. Here's hoping the coaches and athletic directors can persuade the principals to go back to the IHSA Board of Directors and consider a revote.
Otherwise, we're looking at a messy situation for 2021 and beyond.
Answer Book 2019
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