Illinois football is changing once again as earlier this week the IHSA announced the passing of Proposal 23, i.e. district formatting. The proposition passed 324-307 with 69 votes of no opinion.
Without even delving into the proposition, many questioned the voting process itself. The vote was available for all 812 Illinois schools, although the IHSA asked those schools without football programs to abstain from submitting a ballot. In the 2018 season, there were a total of 629 schools (560 teams and 69 in co-ops) actively participating in both IHSA and Illinois 8-Man Football Association (I8FA); yet 700 schools submitted ballots. However, it is safe to assume that of the 69 no opinion votes, a majority of those were schools who did not have football programs.
Another issue with passing the proposal, was that it did not do so with a supermajority. The yes votes accounted for only 46% of the submitted ballots. Of the yes and no votes, the proposition passed 51% to 49% - a very close margin. Granted, it was proposed as a majority vote before the polling began; although there is typically a percentage needed to get a proposal to pass, e.g. 60% or 75%. Either way, the yes votes prevailed.
Regarding the proposition, one of the largest concerns is school enrollments. Throughout the IHSA history, Class 1A has faced the biggest differential gap between the smallest and largest schools. This last year in Class 1A, the largest school had 65% more students than the smallest one. However, this is down considering the average of the past 12 years has been at 67%. In comparison, Class 2A's gap was 30%, 3A was 25%, 4A was 27%, 5A was 40%, 6A was 28%, 7A was 18%, and 8A was 45%. The majority of these all fall well within the norms for more than a decade, and are actually lower than what they were in the old 6 class system.
With the district format, the IHSA will establish classification prior to the season beginning. In 2019, the new classification enrollment will begin, which will be the school’s enrollment based off the average of their previous 2 school years. In the past, a school’s enrollment for sports was based off the number of students on September 1st of the school year prior. Now, it will be the average of those enrollments from September 1st of the last 2 school years. This number will remain the same for 2 full seasons, meaning the next time the enrollment changes will be the first year of district play. Many feel that this will minimize the gap with enrollment; however, several projections show the Class 1A cutoff at 297 students, which is only 11 fewer than the previous 12 year average of 308, and 5 more than the 2018 cutoff of 292.
Another important issue to keep in mind with enrollment is the growing interest in 8 man football. With Proposal 23 passing for district play, Proposal 22 was also approved. This proposition allows the I8FA to participate in a post-season playoff tournament formatted by the IHSA. While the I8FA did have its own 4 team state tournament in November 2018, where Milford Cissna Park beat Alden-Hebron at Monmouth College, this proposal is a step forward for 8 man football to become sanctioned by IHSA. To enter the I8FA league, a 2 year commitment is required by each school. With the new classification enrollment taking effect in 2019, 8 man football having a 2 year commitment, and the waiver and success factor moving to a 2 year deal, all signs point to the IHSA taking control of 8 man football entering the 2021 season. So, because of the possibility of teams moving to 8 man football, creating and dissolving co-ops, we cannot truly know what districts will look like until 2020, when the enrollment numbers for the 2021 season is reset.
There is still vagueness as to what the district format will look like. As of now, there are no true guidelines set in place for playoffs or tournament seeding. We do know that there will be 8 districts per class; however, the class level will be determined prior to the start of the season. The districts will be comprised of 8 (or 9) teams playing a schedule of 7 (or 8) district games, with 2 (or 1) non-district, inconsequential games.The top 4 teams from each district will qualify for the IHSA playoffs.
We believe that there are both pros and cons to this proposal. To start with the positive aspects:
1) District formatting establishes a school’s classification (1A-8A) prior to the start of the season. By predetermining classes, teams will be playing against similar sized opponents to earn a spot in the playoffs.
2) The new proposal will now allow IHSA football schools to arrange a full schedule within the state of Illinois, with the exception of the 2 non-district games, which can be against out-of-state opponents. The 2 non-district games are the only matchups to be scheduled by the school; all others will be lined-up by the IHSA.
3) The schedule will be setup so that the non-district games will be played the first 2 weeks of the season.
4) Lastly, the district proposal will eliminate “conference jumping” by schools looking for an easier route to the state playoffs.
As for the cons:
1) Many long lasting traditions with both conferences and school rivalries will dissolve.
2) While districts helps some schools with reducing travel, as well as finding opponents within Illinois, it will create more travel for other teams. Case in point, the Mt. Carmel Aces play in an Indiana conference as an independent due to the school’s location. In this new format, their closest district game will be a 45 minute drive, with the rest being all over an hour and a half.
3) Non-District matchups will be absolutely meaningless, as they do not count towards a team’s ability to make playoffs.
4) As previously stated, there are no guidelines for playoffs or tournament seeding. We only know that the top 4 teams from each district will qualify.
What does it mean for us?
Over the past 3 years, we have fostered our blog and brand - working hard to bring the athletes, coaches, teams, conference, and fans the best NUIC coverage possible. While we do not know what will happen in the future, our plan is to continue to provide exposure and analysis to the schools in our area as they transition into districts.