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.
"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.
Teams finishing in the top four of the standings in each district will qualify for the playoffs. There is no playoff expansion: still 32 qualifiers per class for a total of 256 qualifiers.
"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."
Proponents of the proposal look forward to the reduction of scheduling struggles for nonconference 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.
Conference-jumping struck the entire state in recent years, but it's hit the Western suburbs particularly hard. This school year alone saw changes to the DuPage Valley Conference, the Upstate Eight Conference, the Metro Suburban Conference and the Interstate Eight Conference in addition to the creation of the DuKane Conference.
"Obviously we've been one of the schools caught by all the conference realignment," said Naperville Central football coach Mike Stine, whose team competes in the five-school DVC. "There needed to be a change, and obviously a lot of other schools felt the same way."
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.
"You're going to have to be really careful about how you schedule those non-district games," said Conant coach Bryan Stortz. "There will likely be some long-standing traditions and rivalries that will go by the wayside, and that will be unfortunate."
Rivalries in established conferences like the Mid-Suburban League and the West Suburban Conference will be damaged by districts. Because the 14 WSC schools are spread among three different classes, many historic matchups will disappear.
"The biggest thing for me is they're tearing down decades and decades of tradition in many of the conferences like ours," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "There are rivalries that began when the sport began, and that's going to come to an end."
• Daily Herald staff writers John Radtke and Jerry Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.
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