Just one year after making what would have been drastic changes to the way high school football was to be played in the state of Illinois, the Illinois High School Association reversed course Tuesday (Dec. 17).
After approving a district format that was to begin with the 2021 season almost a year ago to the day, that measure was rescinded by the IHSA following the latest vote by member schools.
The change back to the current format was one of 10 amendment proposals approved in the annual by-law referendum that ended Monday.
"There is incredible passion for high school football in our state and the subject of football district scheduling has been no exception," IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release. "Many coaches and communities were excited about the prospect of district scheduling when the vote passed a year ago, just like many are excited today that it will ultimately not occur in 2021. We do not expect the discussion surrounding football regular-season scheduling and the playoff structure to dissipate, so we will be charged with continuing to facilitate discussion and ideas among our member school coaches and administrators."
Proposal 15, which passed 374-241-87, removes the by-law directing the IHSA to implement a football scheduling system for regular-season varsity games, impacting the current ability for schools to schedule games and qualify for the playoffs as it is currently administered.
Under the change that was approved a year ago, the IHSA would have assigned football teams to eight or nine-team groupings (districts) based on classification and geography. This meant teams would have played their "district" games against opponents of like sizes, although that could have resulted in more travel for some teams, which was one of the major detractions to this idea. Also, in order to qualify for the playoffs, a team must finish among the top four in their respective district.
That has now all gone by the wayside, which is a pleasant development, according to Robinson High School head coach Casey Pinnell.
"I'm glad it got taken away," Pinnell said. "I am pleased and excited that things are going to stay the same."
Pinnell noted he wasn't against the idea of playing like-sized schools, but the model that was presented was not in the best interests of RHS.
"From a competition standpoint, we would have survived and it would have been interesting to play some different teams," Pinnell said. "But, travel was a concern for us. There would have been significant increases to costs for transportation and feeding our kids because we have longer road trips. Also, I believe it would have reduced the number of people getting to watch Friday night football, simply because of the longer distances to travel to games. And it would have eliminated several rivalry games, which are what high-school football is all about."
Oblong-Palestine-Hutsonville head coach Chad Pusey agreed with Pinnell's sentiments, noting the projected travel time for the district grouping OPH was projected to be in would have been extremely costly, not to mention the affect it could potentially have on the players.
"I think it's great that we're not doing it," Pusey said. "It saves us a lot of money in transportation and allows us to stay more local with our scheduling. Those longer travel times would have had a significant impact on the kids as well, with potentially having to leave school early to travel to a game and/or getting back extremely late after a Friday night game."
Pinnell added that while the current system definitely has its flaws, it is certainly better than the district model.
"We are glad we get to stay in the Little Illini Conference play and play guys up the street from us," Pinnell said. "The current system isn't perfect, but districts weren't the answer. This is the best case scenario for everybody."