Several ideas have come to the forefront in response to the IHSA moving to districts in football in 2021, including a proposal backed by the Western Big 6 conference. But for now, the district format is still the future for Illinois high school football.
Several ideas have come to the forefront in response to the IHSA moving to districts in football in 2021, including a proposal backed by the Western Big 6 conference. But for now, the district format is still the future for Illinois high school football.

Can we make up our mind about what postseason football in Illinois is supposed to look like?

The state will change its playoff system one way or another in 2021, and as it stands now, it will have a district system.

In a district format, classes would be determined before the season begins. The number of football teams get divided by the eight classes, and the number of teams in each class get geographically bunched in district groups of eight or nine – leaving 1 or 2 weeks for out-of-district dates. Playoff seeds would be determined by head-to-head competition of inter-district games.

It seemed like a way to eliminate the troublesome conference affiliation shifting that has caused scheduling quirks and domino effects in recent years. Schools choose to leave or join conferences based on competition; if they can’t compete in a certain league, they’ll find another one – likely smaller – to go to.

“We can’t compete” is a phrase often heard when a school decides to make a change. Football teams want to get the magic number of five wins to make playoffs, but seem to fall short for various reasons.

District football totally eliminated conference shifting brought upon by school opinion.

When more than 500 schools present legislation influenced by more than 500 agendas to do what’s best for their own students, messes such as the revolving door of conference affiliation happen. Administrators know what’s best for their school, but do they know what’s best for all Illinois students?

Now, two of the 25 Illinois High School Association bylaw proposals to be discussed in the next couple of months involve repealing the district format.

Continuing with this weekend’s dicussion of bylaw proposals, here’s what I think of these two:

Repeal districts & keep playoff field at 256 teams

Cody’s take: No

There’s nothing stopping a school from wishing to switch conferences, for whatever reason they want. However, they should make every attempt necessary to find ways to compete better before causing a ripple effect on the rest of their nearby schools.

If there is a problem, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s problem. Should other schools have to suffer or scramble because a conference rival has issues?

The current system is breaking down more by the year; eventually it will become a tangled mess that is difficult to arrange. Something needs to be done.

Repeal districts & expand playoff field to 384 teams

Cody’s take: Not yet

Those wishing to repeal the district format cite problems in officials assignments, lower-level structure, local conference rules, and a belief that the IHSA doesn’t know the particular DNA of its schools.

The district concept isn’t new to the table; it’s been discussed for at least 5 years, and it became the future plan a year ago. A period of 3 years was established to help prepare for the move and to establish the framework for the district format.

The realistic solution to this would be to delay the district format another 2 to 3 years, but that’s not on the table this year.

I would urge the formation of committees to find a way to make the district format work by the time it starts in the fall of 2021.

Among the issues presented by the submitters of this bylaw change, which include multiple large suburban schools, Sterling, Moline, and Rock Island are:

• Districts create several mismatches – however, strength of schedule falls by the wayside at this point, save the choosing of the early season out-of-district games.

• Longtime rivalries should be kept alive – that’s the reason for the two out-of-district games.

• The out-of-district games are meaningless – this is just false. That’s like saying a preseason soap scrimmage is meaningless, but they’re still done anyway. If anything, it builds players up from non-contact work to contact work to team scrimmage work to game situations against unknown plans to meaningful game situations against unknown plans.

• Loss of gate money – is this for the money, or for the kids?

With 384 playoff teams, only three wins are needed to qualify. The “drive for five,” which is another phrase often associated with conference shuffling, becomes a “shoot for three.” Teams who are jumping conferences aren’t averaging three or four wins a season, they’re averaging less than that.

Conference shifting will continue with the expansion plan; it maybe will slow it down, but it will continue to exist. Giving authority back to the schools is only going to make the current issue of conference changes continue.

I have faith that the district format will be fine, but would keep the explansion plan in the back pocket just in case.

There is one more bylaw yet to be discussed. Should schools without enrollment boundaries compete in separate playoffs from schools with boundaries (read: public schools)?

Tune in to Cutter’s Corner on Friday for my thoughts on it.