Proposal 23: Former Mundelein coach Calhoun an advocate of districts
Former Mundelein football coach Larry Calhoun, who recently stepped down from his post, believes that the IHSA's Proposal 23, a districting format that will eliminate conferences beginning in 2021, makes complete sense and is the best option for kids because it provides a level playing field and an equitable chance for teams to qualify for the playoffs.
He has firsthand experience with both conferences and districts.
Before taking over at Mundelein in 2015, Calhoun spent 11 years coaching high school football in Texas, mostly around the Austin area. Texas uses districts for high school football.
"Some of the arguments against districts are valid and I get it why coaches might feel the way they do," Calhoun said. "But I just don't think those arguments outweigh the benefits of districts to the kids.
"Districts mean that now the opportunity to make the playoffs is more equitable. If you have 1,900 kids in your school and you're playing schools in your conference with 4,000 kids, and you're trying to get to the playoffs playing a schedule like that, that's an inequity that can't be corrected."
Calhoun had exactly that challenge at Mundelein, which has an enrollment of 1,978, far less than North Suburban Conference foes such as Stevenson, Warren and Waukegan, all boasting enrollments of more than 4,000.
"I don't hold this against 8A schools, but how is it equitable that these schools are making it to the playoffs playing sometimes half of their games against conference teams that may be half their size," Calhoun said. "The most equitable thing we can do is change that."
Meanwhile, Calhoun says that geographical challenges, on the bright side, could be seen as part of a fun experience for the kids, traveling to different places, bonding along the journey.
"In a couple of years, the travel could just be the way things are, the way it is," Calhoun said. "It's an issue, sure, but it doesn't have to be an insurmountable one."
Calhoun says that road games were sometimes a substantial trip in Texas. He remembers that in El Paso in particular, most of the schools there were on the large side, but there were not enough large schools in the city to fill out an entire district, so when the El Paso schools had to travel to other towns to compete against comparable-sized schools, sometimes they were traveling as much as two hours.
"But you know what? It just became part of the experience for those kids," Calhoun said. "The travel become part of the fun. They made a nice trip out of it."
And as far as the long-standing rivalries that might be jeopardized by districts? Calhoun says that that's what the first two games of the season are for.
Under the current districting proposal in Illinois, only the final seven games of the season would be district games, and only those games would count for playoff qualification, with the top four teams in each district making the playoffs.
The first two games of the nine-game season would not count in the race for the playoffs and could be tailored to any goal or desire of the program and its coaching staff.
"If you want to take a risk and play a really tough team to challenge your team, you can do that in the first two games and not worry that it will impact your team's ability to make the playoffs," Calhoun said. "If you want to maintain old conference rivalries against teams that are now not in your district, you can do that, too in those first two games. People who really want those rivalry games can have them."