Will schools around Illinois vote to revamp football playoff system?

Updated 10/10/2018 6:07 AM
  • High schools around Illinois, including Naperville Central, are considering a revised playoff system.

      High schools around Illinois, including Naperville Central, are considering a revised playoff system. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Conference shuffling.

We've talked about it. We've dreaded it. Frankly, we're sick of it.

But what can we do about it?

This week's Eyes on Five looks at a proposal from the IHSA Football Advisory Committee that we're hoping has the legs to make it successfully through a statewide vote by the member schools.

Are you ready for some districts?!?!

What is a district?:

In April the IHSA Football Advisory Committee unveiled a proposal that introduces districts as a way to eliminate conference shuffling and make it easier for schools to schedule "nondistrict" games.

Districts would replace conferences -- only for football. There would be eight districts, created by the IHSA, for each of the eight football classes. They'd be formed geographically by enrollment and feature eight or nine teams each.

The district schedule allows for one or two nondistrict games at the start of the season, similar to nonconference games now. Those games wouldn't count toward playoff qualification, meaning teams would be more open to playing each other without having to worry a loss affecting a potential playoff berth.

The top four teams in each district qualify for the playoffs, and the bracket is designed so no district teams face each other until the third round of the postseason at the earliest.

If the upcoming IHSA town hall meetings go well, the proposal could advance through the bylaw amendment process and land on the membership ballot in November and December.

For all the positives, though, it'll be an uphill climb for the pro-district camp.


Naperville Central athletic director Andy Lutzenkirchen is a member of the IHSA Football Advisory Committee. He's also a member of the DuPage Valley Conference, which is in desperate need of a district system.

The DVC stands at only five schools -- Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley -- after four schools departed at the start of this school year to form the DuKane Conference. Even with rumblings that DeKalb might become the sixth member of the DVC, it remains a tough situation for the football programs.

"I've heard more positives from people about (districts) than I have negatives, compared to proposals in the past," Lutzenkirchen said. "We've got to try something. I like districting because we're a conference of five and our conference has seen the most change in the area with schools leaving, coming and leaving again. Something's got to stop with that."

Districts solve the DVC's problems. The five schools likely would land in the same district, maintaining their rivalries, and they wouldn't have to worry about scheduling difficulties.

Scheduling nondistrict games at the start of the season would be easier because playoff implications are eliminated. Teams like Naperville Central wouldn't have to travel to Ohio or Kentucky just to fill its schedule.

It checks all the boxes for the DVC but, unfortunately for the league, they may not have enough companions in the pro-district camp.


The new DuKane Conference has eight members. The merger announced last week between the Chicago Catholic League and the East Suburban Catholic Conference creates a group of 24. The West Suburban Conference has been a stable group of 14 schools since 1986.

At the very least, that's 46 schools likely to vote against a district proposal if it appears on a statewide ballot.

That'll be a tough bloc for the DVC and other pro-district folks to overcome.

Why is there an anti-district faction? Turns out it's not all roses.

Hinsdale South is a Class 6A school living in an 8A West Suburban Conference. In a district system the Hornets would lose many of their football rivals and possibly be placed in a group with St. Francis, DeKalb, St. Laurence ... schools with no connection whatsoever beyond a few playoff meetings.

Glenbard South, a 5A program, is in a similar situation. The Raiders no longer would play Glenbard East and most other Upstate Eight Conference schools in a district system. They'd be with Kaneland, maybe Lemont and Montini ... who knows?

What if playing levels don't match up among the football programs in a given district? That creates massive scheduling difficulties in a system that was designed to help eliminate scheduling issues.

What about southern Illinois teams in Class 7A and 8A? Think of the massive weekly commutes in a district with them and south suburban schools.

When schools throughout the state look at what's best for their football program, I'm afraid it'll be bad news for the pro-district camp.


Right now the alternatives are limited.

If districts don't survive the state's bylaw amendment process, it's back to the drawing board. The answer could come from future expansion of the football playoffs.

It's an option the IHSA isn't afraid to turn to ... like when the playoffs expanded from five to six classes in 1980. Or when the playoffs expanded from 16 to 32 teams in each class in 1985. Or when the playoffs expanded from six to eight classes in 2001.

In terms of precedence, the possibility of expansion is much greater than the chance of adopting a drastic new system of districts.

How does expansion help the DVC and the pro-district camp? Expansion means more playoffs teams, which obviously means an easier path to the playoffs.

Which means teams won't have to be concerned about reaching five or six wins. Which means schools won't need to switch conferences in search of those five or six wins. Which means teams will be more willing to schedule nonconference games against power leagues like the DVC.

I'm not an advocate for playoff expansion, which inevitably leads to more early-round blowouts. But if it helps ease the conference shuffling and the scheduling of nonconference games, I can get behind it.

It's got a better chance of happening than districts.

Stat time:

With three additions last week, eight DuPage County schools now have clinched a playoff berth. The list includes Glenbard East, Glenbard West, IC Catholic Prep, Lisle, Montini, St. Francis, Wheaton Warrenville South and Willowbrook.

A victory this week sends Benet, Hinsdale Central, Hinsdale South, Naperville Central and Waubonsie Valley to the postseason.

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