One of the more entertaining IHSA football title games of recent years was the Class 4A final in 2011 between Rochester and Richmond-Burton.
Rochester was led by quarterback Wes Lunt, who’s now sitting out a redshirt year at Illinois after lighting it up for Oklahoma State as a freshman. Lunt threw for 506 yards that day, and Rochester needed all of them to beat Richmond-Burton, which tried to play keep-away by running the ball 74 times and throwing just three passes.
R-B’s strategy almost worked, thanks to a gutsy effort from Jack Dechow — who had 31 of those carries and 246 yards — but Rochester held on for a 42-39 win.
It’s a matchup that wouldn’t have happened though, had an idea now getting a serious hearing been part of the IHSA by-laws.
The concept — applying a tradition, or success, factor to the classification process — grew out of a proposal put forth by Jim Dunnan, the principal at downstate Washington. He suggested a point system to quantify postseason success in football and the IHSA’s major four-class sports, including boys and girls basketball, among others. Teams that had a certain amount of success would be bumped up a class.
In June, the IHSA board of directors decided to create a committee to consider the idea. The 15-member group made up of principals and coaches from public and private schools all over the state recently held its first meeting. By several accounts, the discussion was a lively one.
“I guess the first meeting, to me, is a very good example of how difficult a job the IHSA has,” said Pat Elder, football coach and athletic director at Richmond-Burton. “They’re a group that is unfairly maligned. … No decision is going to make everyone happy.”
Indeed, had a tradition/success factor been in place then, Elder’s team likely would have been bumped up from 4A to 5A in 2011 because it reached the state semifinals each of the previous three seasons.
At the meeting, “there were a lot of war stories being told,” IHSA assistant executive secretary Kurt Gibson said.
And, according to St. Ignatius athletic director Jim Prunty, there also was talk of the IHSA’s enrollment multiplier for private schools, as well as the waiver that was later added to correct what were seen as flaws in the multiplier rule.
Prunty, like others in the private school community, said he has “issues with the multiplier.” But he also isn’t sure the idea of bumping successful public schools up in class is fair, “speaking just personally now, not as president of the Catholic League or a member of the [IHSA] committee.”
As Prunty noted, there also are concerns about the waiver, especially with schools ping-ponging between one class and another over the course of several seasons.
One goal of the committee, besides being a forum for all sides of all the issues, is to come up with some hard data. Gibson said the IHSA office is working on a spreadsheet that will show exactly how much impact a tradition/success factor would make on classifications. “They want us to apply it to football for the last 10 years,” he said.
Having some numbers to back up — or refute — anecdotal evidence seems like a good idea. As Gibson noted, there hasn’t been a systematic review of the classification process since the move to four classes and the introduction of the multiplier waiver.
In the meantime, Elder and his colleagues will keep talking on a regular basis.
“With the collection of people you have working on it, every faction is represented,” he said. “That’s what will allow for something equitable [to emerge].”
Members of the IHSA committee reviewing the classification process
Brian Brooks, Principal, St. Joseph-Ogden
Jim Dunnan, Principal, Washington (Ill.)
Pat Elder, Athletic Director/Football Coach, Richmond-Burton
Jeff Faulkenberg, Athletic Director, Triad
Mark Grounds, Football coach, Jacksonville
Mark Kuehl, Principal, Lena-Winslow
Becky Moran, Athletic Director, Zion-Benton
Randy Moss, Athletic Director, Monticello
Mike Pappocia, Athletic Director/Football Coach, Sterling Newman
Jim Prunty, Athletic Director, St. Ignatius
Jim Quaid, Principal, Gordon Tech
Eric Regez, Baseball Coach, Herscher
David Ribbens, Athletic Director, U-High
Ken Turner, Football Coach, Althoff
Lisa Wunar, Athletic Director, Hillcrest