Clark: Conference turnover creates scheduling dilemma for football teams

SHARE Clark: Conference turnover creates scheduling dilemma for football teams

This is a nervous time for football coaches and fans, wondering whether their teams will make the playoffs and where they’ll land if they do.

Will unbeatens Glenbard West and Maine South stay on the 8A side of the 8A/7A bubble? Will 9-0 Nazareth and 8-1 Lincoln-Way West wind up in 6A and not drop to 5A?

The answers to both of those questions is probably yes, according to bracket expert Steve Soucie of the (Kankakee) Daily Journal.

We’ll get clarity on those and other playoff questions on Saturday evening when the Illinois High School Association unveils the 256-school field and the pairings.

We’re also finding out a little more about the conference landscape for next school year, which is a source of interest — and some anxiety — for athletic directors trying to fill a nine-game football schedule.

Now is the time when ADs like to finalize those schedules by finding nonconference opponents for the first week or two of the season.

That’s not a particularly tough task, because there are more than 550 football teams in the state and almost all of them are looking for early-season matchups.

Where it gets tricky is finding nonconference games after Week 2, which is the predicament faced by schools in conferences with an odd number of schools. No AD wants to deal with that, which is why there’s so much angst in some of the state’s biggest conferences right now.

In the western suburbs, the DuPage Valley and the Upstate Eight recently accepted the reality that they’ll both go forward with nine and 13 schools, respectively. It wasn’t a good situation this year for the DVC, which was down to six schools and wound up with a one-time fix of having every school in the league play one of the others twice.

The UEC, meanwhile, had two eight-team divisions, an ideal scenario from a scheduling standpoint. But the three Indian Prairie schools — Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley — move from the Upstate Eight to the DuPage Valley in 2015. Speculation that another school might switch leagues was rampant, but came to nothing.

So earlier this month, the UEC and DVC faced reality and put together schedules that include crossovers between the conferences and between the UEC’s six- and seven-team divisions.

That’s not likely to be more than a stop-gap remedy and neither is the Catholic League’s plan for dealing with its own scheduling dilemma.

The Catholic League thought it was set with a four-division, 20-team setup for this season when five former Suburban Christian Conference teams agreed in June, 2013 to join. But last November, Marian Central changed course and decided to join the East Suburban Catholic Conference instead. St. Francis deSales was recruited as a late replacement, but a lack of numbers forced the Pioneers to forfeit their entire varsity schedule this season.

De Sales principal Janet Cobb said in September the Pioneers will not play any varsity games in 2015, and possibly in 2016 as well. But de Sales does have contracts for Catholic League varsity games in 2015 and the conference has sought permission from the IHSA to count those forfeits as a temporary schedule fix.

Teams scheduled to play DeSales have the option of finding a replacement game, as Brother Rice did this year when it picked up Indiana power Brebeuf. In the meantime, Catholic League president and Loyola AD Pat Mahoney and his fellow athletic directors are trying to figure out what to do going forward.

Everything’s on the table, according to Mahoney, from adding schools to subtracting them. But whatever the new Catholic League football lineup looks like, one thing seems assured: It’ll have an even number of teams.

That way, there won’t be any more nervous times next fall — at least for the ADs.

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