IHSA takes aim at conference shuffle, eyes new football format

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Phillips holds up the Class 5A state trophy at Huskie Stadium, November 25, 2017 Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Conference reshuffling is a near constant, but the pace seems to have picked up even more in the past few years.

Football scheduling is the major driver behind every conference change. Schools prioritize maneuvering into the best possible position to get the five wins necessary to qualify for the playoffs.

That’s understandable. But the constant changes aren’t great for high school sports. Rivalries are destroyed and fan interest decreases when alumni pick up a schedule and see that their school is playing a bunch of teams they have no knowledge of or history with.

The Illinois High School Association’s football advisory committee discussed some significant changes to the sport’s format recently. Nothing is finalized yet, but they are expected to submit a formal proposal for consideration in November.

The committee proposed breaking the state’s football teams into eight or nine team districts. Schools would be placed in districts based on enrollment and geography. There would be eight districts in each playoff class and district standings would determine which teams qualify for the playoffs.

Non-district games would not be factors in playoff qualification. Districts would be reviewed and possibly changed every two years.

The proposal would remove football from the current high school conference landscape and schools could form conferences that make more sense for other sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball.

It also completely eliminates the football scheduling problems that haunt most athletic directors and coaches.

Phillips and Loyola, two of the state’s best teams, have major issues scheduling non-conference games, so theoretically this district fix is something that would help them out. Loyola still hasn’t found a Week 1 opponent for the upcoming season and the Wildcats are traveling to Ohio to play. But neither school is very excited about the plan.

“The difficult part in the city is if the district mix Public League and suburban teams, because of our stadium issues,” Phillips coach Troy McAllister said. “If Evanston is in a district with Taft does that mean Evanston come on at Thursday afternoon to play at Lane at 4 p.m.?

But if you have an all-CPS district then since it is based on enrollment size you would have some major problems with parity, which could create an injury risk.”

McAllister says he’d like to see what the proposed districts look like before making a final judgement on the idea.

Pat Mahoney, Loyola’s athletic director, isn’t a fan of the districting proposal.

“The concept itself I understand,” Mahoney said. “They are trying to solve a problem of people changing conferences. But I think they are going to create other problems.

“I don’t like it from a Chicago Catholic League standpoint. Loyola Academy is not going to be with any Chicago Catholic League teams. That bothers me. It takes away one of the great things about our league. And you lose the history of prestigious things like all-conference teams and the Lawless Award.”

NEW COACH AT MARIAN CATHOLIC

Erick Middleton has taken over in Chicago Heights. He’s a 1998 graduate of Marian Catholic and played at Eastern Michigan. He’s been an assistant at Marian since 2016.

“It is an honor as well as a privilege,” said Middleton. “I know I have my work cut out for me and this will truly be an uphill battle. I can honestly say that I have accomplished one of my longtime dreams.”

Middleton takes over for Sean Mele, who resigned for personal reasons. The Spartans were 0-9 last season.

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