IHSA member schools voted in favor of a bylaw amendment proposal that will drastically change the high school football postseason and regular season landscape.
Beginning in 2021, the eight playoff classes will be determined before the season, and each school will be placed into a district consisting of eight or nine teams with schools in the same class and similar geographic area. The amendment will effectively replace traditional football conferences.
The IHSA will assign regular season games against district opponents. Schools can schedule their own nondistrict games. Only games against district opponents will count toward the district standings, and the top four teams in each district will qualify for the postseason.
The main goals of the proposal are to limit the constantly reshuffling conferences, and to de-emphasize the drive to win five regular season games.
The IHSA announced Tuesday that the proposal passed by a vote of 324 to 307, with 69 “no opinion” votes.
“It is a historic change,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement released by the IHSA. “The narrow gap in the voting indicates that there are pros and cons that impact our diverse football-playing membership in a multitude of ways. We hope that it will effectively address conference realignment and scheduling concerns, while helping create long-term sustainability and growth for high school football in the state.”
Ballots for IHSA amendment proposals are cast by each school’s IHSA representative, which is often the athletic director or principal. According to the IHSA, 702 of 818 schools (85.8 percent) cast a ballot this year. It was by far the highest voting turnout in the past decade, and the most since a similar proposal was on the ballot in 2014.
The 2014 proposal was rejected by a vote of 395 to 212.
The 2018 proposal was submitted by members of the IHSA football advisory committee. What exactly the districts will look like remains a question.
Joliet Herald-News sports editor Steve Soucie created his own projection in May. Travel for some schools is a concern, with certain districts covering a wide geographic area.
There are other unsolved issues with the proposal as well. Eight districts with eight teams in eight classes equates to 512 total schools. The IHSA had 560 member schools participate in football in 2018. How those differences will be resolved also remains unclear.
The IHSA noted that, “there will continue to be eight postseason classes with 32 qualifiers per class,” reiterating that the number of playoff teams will not change.
“This is the third time (2009, 2014) that a football district proposal has been brought forward to our membership and each time the support has grown,” Anderson said. “It is based on a concept that other state high school associations have used successfully, and we are committed to doing our part to make it successful here in Illinois. The beauty of our legislative system is that our member schools will have input in that process and the ability to offer recommendations on tweaks and changes as we progress.”
The IHSA statement also said a more definitive timeline on the future release dates of districts and schedules will be developed with the IHSA football advisory committee over the course of the 2019-20 school year.