If you follow high school football, hopefully you caught our package on the proposed high school football district format— complete with a district mock draft of sorts from recognized Illinois prep football expert (and heck of a nice guy) Steve Soucie — either in our weekend edition or online at mywebtimes.com. It was informative and pretty fun.
In case you missed it, in short a proposal is gaining steam that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) follow the lead of other states and go from the current nonconference and conference regular season/win more than you lose and you're likely in the playoffs format to a district format, which would place schools in districts with six or seven schools of like size and geography, have them play each other and fill playoff brackets based entirely upon the final district standings.
Steve's proposed districts were just one man's opinion — as educated as Steve's opinion may be, it is just an opinion, and if experience has taught me anything it's that you never know how the IHSA is going to carve up the Land of Lincoln pie come postseason time — and when and if this district system becomes a reality, it almost certainly won't look exactly like this.
Still, according to Steve's projections, which are as good a place to start as any (with parenthetical comments from Your Friendly Neighborhood Sports Reporter):
• Ottawa would land in a Class 6A district, joining Burbank St. Laurence, Chicago Kennedy, Hinsdale South, Lemont, New Lenox Providence, Oak Lawn Community, Oak Lawn Richards and Riverside-Brookfield.
(Talk about some fresh opponents. Welcome to suburban life, OHS.)
• Streator would land in a 5A district with Dixon, Geneseo, Kankakee, La Salle-Peru, Morris, Rochelle and Sterling. Five of those seven schools are currently in conferences Streator left in part so it wouldn't have to play them in football, and Dixon left the same NIB 12 at the same time for the same reason.
(Just when the Bulldogs and Dukes thought they were out ... the IHSA pulls them back in.)
• Sandwich in 4A would be reunited with a couple Interstate Eight schools it's soon to part ways with, Coal City and Manteno, in a district also featuring Chicago Ag Science, Chicago Julian, Kewanee, Mendota, archrival Plano and Rock Falls.
(I don't know much about Ag Science, the school or the discipline, or Julian, but other than that this looks a pretty nice fit for the Indians and Reapers, doesn't it?)
• Seneca in 3A would share a district with current (and soon-to-be-former) conference foes Reed-Custer, Peotone and Wilmington, former (and soon-to-be-current) conference foe Dwight as well as Bloomington Central Catholic, Eureka, Peoria Heights and the River Valley co-op.
(Man, did this one not come out the way I thought it might. What an eclectic, all-over-the-place grouping.)
• Both Fieldcrest and FCW in 2A would remain with current HOIC rivals Tri-Valley, Dee-Mack, El Paso-Gridley and Tremont, also being joined by Maroa-Forsyth and Sangamon Valley.
(Yikes. Tri-Valley and Dee-Mack were tough enough, then you throw two-time defending state runner-up Maroa-Forsyth in there? Yikes times three, though at the top the Heart of Illinois has been arguably the toughest 1A/2A conference in the state the past few seasons already.)
• And for Marquette, some familiar but not too familiar names in Class 1A such as Milledgeville, Morrison, Polo, Stark County, AFC, Ridgewood and Kewanee Wethersfield.
(One gets the sense the Crusaders program will be a perennial playoff contender wherever it lands under any system, and the Cru should find more regular-season challenges —and a more consistent and conventional schedule of opponents — under a district schedule than in what remains of the Northeastern Athletic Conference.)
Soooo ... those are my quick thoughts for our area schools. In a more general sense, how do I feel about a district system?
It would be fine, I suppose. It would take away most of the incentive for schools to conference-hop in the never-ending search of the perfect fit, true, but it would also remove some traditional rivalries. Schools can schedule whatever opponents they like during their one or two open weeks each season, but I can promise you from experience those rivalry games lose a lot of their luster when it's just another game on the schedule. (Ottawa-Streator, anyone?)
The other big issue will be balance. Some districts are going to be bears, some are going to be relatively easy to earn a playoff spot out of. That's true of conferences now too, but conferences are voluntary. The idea of having their fates determined for them doesn't sit well with most people, even though most in high school sports are used to it since that's how the IHSA already handles postseason for just about every other sport.
Do I think districts will pass?
Not this go 'round, no. Eventually, though, yeah I do.
The ability to pass along the headaches of finding opponents, seeking better conferences and fielding scheduling complaints will eventually prove too tempting for the majority of schools. Sooner or later, enough administrators will vote to hand all those problems to the IHSA.
Everyone's used to complaining about them already.