IHSA and Proposal 23: You've got questions, we've got answers
Editor's note: This is the first of an occasional series from Daily Herald high school football experts on Proposal 23, which will change the landscape of the sport statewide beginning in 2021. Stories will follow in coming weeks on how the vote to change came about, will the change effect some schools more positively or negatively, how players and coaches feel about the change, and what this means for travel costs on school budgets.
Ready or not, massive change is coming to Illinois high school football.
It's still a few years away, but the recent passage of Proposal 23 by the state's member schools will completely overhaul the regular season and playoffs as the Illinois High School Association takes over the bulk of the scheduling duties.
How did this happen and what does it mean?
You've got questions, and we're here to bring you answers.
Q: What is Proposal 23?
A: Effective in 2021, Proposal 23 eliminates conferences for football -- many that have been around for decades -- and gives the IHSA authority to create "district" groupings based on enrollment and geography.
Proposal 23 was submitted to the IHSA by Naperville Central athletic director Andy Lutzenkirchen and Forreston principal Travis Heinz. A nine-week regular season remains in place but playoff classes for every team will be determined before the season begins.
Schools from the eight playoff classes will be placed by the IHSA into eight districts per class. Each district will play a round-robin schedule, with the remaining one or two "nondistrict" games scheduled by the individual schools.
The top four district finishers qualify for the playoffs, meaning the postseason field remains at 32 teams per class for a total of 256 qualifiers. Nondistrict games will not count toward playoff qualification, and district teams won't face each other in the playoffs until the third round at the earliest.
Q: How did we reach this point?
A: About 40 states use a similar system for football including Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. That served as a model for Illinois proponents.
In November the bylaw amendment proposals were discussed at 28 town meetings and the IHSA Legislative Commission eventually forwarded Proposal 23 and 10 other proposals to a vote among the 818 member schools.
Seven hundred schools voted on Proposal 23, with 324 voting for it, 307 against and 69 voting no opinion. That means dozens of schools that don't play football voted on the proposal but, because the IHSA doesn't release voting information, there's no way to tell how many of those schools voted either way.
The 17-vote margin made Proposal 23 official but you can bet there are folks already drawing up new proposals to negate Proposal 23 before it ever goes into effect. It's possible something completely different -- or even the continuation of conferences -- will be in effect three years from now.
Q: What are the positives of Proposal 23?
A: There have been far too many schools switching conferences in recent years. Part of the blame goes to the desire to provide football teams with a better chance at five or six victories and playoff qualification from an easier league.
The DuPage Valley Conference, Interstate Eight, Metro Suburban and Upstate Eight all saw changes this school year, and the DuKane Conference was formed. The Chicago Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic Conference announced a merger effective next school year.
Districts hopefully put an end to the conference jumping. It became so bad in the five-member DVC that some teams had to play each other twice in the fall and Naperville Central played in Kentucky just to fill its schedule.
State powers every season have trouble filling their nonconference schedule because other teams don't want a possible loss risking playoff qualification. Nondistrict games won't count toward qualification, so it'll be easier to schedule games outside the district.
Q: What are the negatives?
A: It's awful to think about the Fox Valley Conference, Mid-Suburban League, North Suburban Conference and West Suburban Conference no longer existing during football season. The biggest fear with the arrival of districts is the disappearance of legendary rivalries developed during decades of conference play.
The elimination of conferences also means dozens of private schools and schools from the Chicago Public League will be placed throughout suburban districts. Will private schools react by breaking off into their own association, and how many Chicago schools will decide not to participate?
While the spirit of districts is based on geography, long road trips are inevitable for many schools. The IHSA must form districts with large southern Illinois schools such as Edwardsville and Belleville East, and the only way to do it is by grouping them with suburban schools nearly 300 miles away.
And how will the change from conferences to districts affect fan interest as familiar foes disappear from schedules? Football teams will face vastly different opponents than other athletic programs in the school. Will communities be on board?
Q: What's next?
A: We wait.
The IHSA will announce district groupings in 2020. That'll give the organization time to evaluate participation levels, enrollments, multiplier numbers for private schools and other factors.
Based on that data, the IHSA will designate districts that'll be in place for two years before being evaluated again.
The IHSA will provide a more definitive timeline next school year, so stay tuned.
• Twitter: @kevin_schmit