New state football playoff proposal hopes to challenge controversial districting system

The Sun-Times has obtained a copy of a new football playoff proposal expected to be sent to the Illinois High School Association in the next few days.

SHARE New state football playoff proposal hopes to challenge controversial districting system
Maine South’s celebrates winning Class 8A in 2016.

Maine South’s celebrates winning Class 8A in 2016.

AP Photo

The Sun-Times has obtained a copy of a new football playoff proposal expected to be sent to the Illinois High School Association in the next few days. 

Twenty-eight schools have signed on in support of a proposal that could serve as an alternative to the controversial districting system that was approved last year and is scheduled to be implemented in 2021.

Under the proposal the playoffs would expand from 32 to 48 teams in each class. There would be an eight-game regular season (and a Week 9 game for non-playoff qualifiers). Schools would continue to form their own conferences and make their own schedules. 

The new proposal lays out the following rationale:

“We believe expanding playoffs from 32 teams to 48 per class (256 teams to 384 teams overall), is a much better solution to the issues and concerns about football scheduling — the drive for five and conference shuffling than the districting model. By only needing three wins to qualify for the playoffs, the pressure on schools, coaches and athletic directors to find five wins is removed. The need to change conferences to find five wins is also removed.”

West Aurora Athletic Director Jason Buckley and East Aurora Athletic Director Fil Torres are spearheading the effort. They reached out to schools across the state to get input. It’s been floating around the CPS and has support from Glenbrook North to the Western Big Six conference. 

“We didn’t want this to be a strictly suburban Chicago thing,” Buckley said. “We reached out to a lot of schools in the northern and western part of the state, as well as central and southern Illinois. We wanted to do something that made sense to the largest amount of people possible and we got quite a bit of info from all of them. The other piece we tried to go with was, if you are in favor of it and you are willing to put your name on it that is great, it carries some weight.”

In the districting system conferences will be eliminated. The IHSA will determine playoff classes before the season and break each class into eight or nine team districts based on enrollment and geography. Districts will be set for two years.

Teams will play a nine-week regular season and any non-district regular season games will not count in the district standings. The top four teams in each district qualify for the playoffs.

The IHSA recently released a proposed district mock up showing what the districts would have looked like in the 2018-19 season. One of the 8A districts contains Belleville East, Edwardsville, O’Fallon, Lincoln-Way East, Joliet Central, Joliet West, Lockport and Minooka. It’s a four-hour drive from Lincoln-Way East to O’Fallon.

“In the district system there is a great potential for schools from our conference to have to travel down to the St. Louis area to play district games,” Buckley said. “And there are some schools that are going from west of Rockford to Chicago and vice versa. Fans aren’t going to travel those distances to see their teams play.”

Taft coach John Tsarouchas said he appreciated the thoroughness of the new proposal but would like to see some more options.

“The [newly] proposed system minimizes the [scheduling] problem but it doesn’t completely eliminate it,” Tsarouchas said. “The district system eliminates the scheduling problem but it creates plenty of other potential issues for teams across the state”

Brother Rice coach Brian Badke says the 24-team Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic conference would get behind the proposal.

”As long as the district thing is gone I’ll take this any day of the week,” Badke said. “As a whole we would be ok with this. We just put the [CCL/ESCC] thing together, the last thing we want to do is change it.”

The vote that passed districting was very close. There were 324 schools in favor, 307 opposed and 69 had no opinion. Eighty-five percent of schools voted.

The following schools submitted the new proposal to the IHSA: Glenbrook North, East Aurora, West Aurora, York, Dundee-Crown, Lake Forest, Pekin, Barrington, Antioch, West Chicago, Moline, Plainfield North, Plainfield Central, Oswego East, Joliet West, Joliet Central, Romeoville, Elgin, Larkin, Stevenson, Wauconda, Lemont, Rock Island and the Western Big Six conference.

Read the full new proposal here: 9 game schedule Football Proposal.pdf

After the proposal is submitted to the IHSA it would go out to Town Hall meetings in early November for feedback. Then the IHSA’s Legislative Commission would vote on Nov. 25 on whether to send it to an all-school ballot. If that is successful the schools would vote between Dec. 2 and Dec. 16 and the results would be revealed on Dec. 17.

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