Proposal 23: Travel times, less revenue a concern for all schools

  • A packed house witnessed the high school football game between Wheeling and Rolling Meadows this past October. Will those stadiums continue to be packed in 2021 when the IHSA implements Proposal 23, which abolishes conferences in favor of a district format?

      A packed house witnessed the high school football game between Wheeling and Rolling Meadows this past October. Will those stadiums continue to be packed in 2021 when the IHSA implements Proposal 23, which abolishes conferences in favor of a district format? John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Tally the travel time from Round Lake to Rockford on a Friday, from Wheeling to the West Side in rush hour, from the Quad Cities to a faraway city on a stormy night.

Count the dollars lost at ticket gates.

Add it all up and the IHSA's Proposal 23 might sack football at some high schools or, if nothing else, deliver a blow to athletic budgets.

Winning at all costs just might have taken on a new meaning.

"It has obliterated us," Moline athletic director Dick Knar said. "It has crushed us."

When the Prop 23 passed in December, it rocked high school football in the state and potentially put it on a rocky road. The change from conferences to districts will attempt to balance the playing field, pitting schools of similar enrollments against each other in seven of the nine week regular-season schedule starting in 2021.

But will it be worth the cost? Or the headaches? Or the gas money?

Pack a snack, kids, and buckle in for some long drives.

"Like with anything, there is going to be good and bad, and there is going to be pros and cons," Wheeling athletic director Don Rowley Jr. said. "The potential of winning more games, being more competitive in a lot of games, that's a great upside. But is it worth all the potential issues that are going to come up?"

Complicated travel

Wheeling has an enrollment of 1,717 students, which makes it a Class 6A football school playing in the Mid-Suburban League, which is comprised of mainly Class 7A and Class 8A schools. Not having to play larger MSL schools might be good for the Wildcats, but Rowley noted the move to districts could potentially mean Wheeling matching up with 4-5 schools from the city during the season.

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"(Traveling to Chicago) would make things real challenging with trying to leave in order to get there in time, the kids getting home really late on a school night," said Rowley, noting some city schools play on Thursdays or have only a varsity level.

"For win-loss potential and competitiveness, (Prop 23) definitely would be good for us because it's very hard for us to compete with the size of school we are and the number of kids we get to come out for a sport like football against the schools that are currently in our conference."

Round Lake athletic director Mike Mizwicki calls it "complicated" for his school. The Panthers play in the Northern Lake County Conference, and while Round Lake has the largest enrollment (2,157), the school hasn't been to state playoffs since 2001. As a Class 7A school in a predominantly Class 6A conference, Round Lake would be spending lots of time on a yellow bus and lots of money filling up the gas tank.

"The potential of having to go to Rockford or Rockton Hononegah on a Friday night to play a football game just doesn't make a lot of sense, when there's a 6A school down the street," Mizwicki said. "That's kind of the whole point of conferences. I think (Prop 23) is all about winning and not about the responsibility of cost. Asking parents to go see their kid play in Rockford on a Friday night, that's hard for us.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Beyond winning and losing, the cost of this doesn't seem like it's worth it just to figure out who gets in the playoffs."

Schools of similar enrollments playing each other also doesn't guarantee competitive games, even though under the current proposal schools will be allowed to schedule their own games for the first two weeks of the season before the IHSA-mandated schedule takes over for the following seven weeks.

Some of Round Lake's best games in recent years have been against North Chicago (741 enrollment, Class 4A), which is another school that would be looking at long bus rides when it has a road game.

"Why travel an hour or an hour and a half when there's a good game in your area?" Mizwicki said. "Because we got to figure out who's going to win? Or who's going to get into the playoffs? Or who's going to be the state champ? Only half of the schools make it into the state playoffs. So for the other half, this whole thing is like a big waste. A waste of money, a waste of effort, a waste of driving."

Less revenue, greater expense

The journey has just started.

Take Moline.

The Maroons play in the Western Big 6 Conference, whose members range in enrollment size from 2,082 (Moline) to 440 (Rock Island Alleman). Despite the discrepancies, football teams are competitive with each other. Other than a long drive to play Quincy Sr., Moline has short trips to Alleman, Rock Island High and East Moline United Township.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rivalry games translate to money for schools. Less attendance, less revenue.

For example, when Moline hosted Alleman last fall, Knar says his school generated a revenue of $13,000. But when Benet Academy made the trip from Lisle to Moline for a Week-2 game, Knar says his school made $8,000 less.

If districts replace conferences, Moline is looking at potential bus rides to Rockford and Algonquin (Jacobs). Those would be likely two-hour plus drives.

"By going to districts -- and I'm hoping we can overturn this -- we will never play UT again, and we've played UT for over 70 years. And UT is a mile down the street from us," said Knar, who before coming to Moline served as athletic director at Grant in Fox Lake and was Mundelein's boys basketball coach for many years. "We'll never face a team that is 10 minutes from us. We'll never face (Iowa schools) PV (Pleasant Valley) or Bettendorf, which would be great games. We'd be sellouts. Sellouts at their place. Sellouts at our place. We seat 8,000 people at our football field. When we play Rock Island, it's bedlam. When we play UT, it's bedlam. When we play Alleman, it's bedlam."

Bedlam likely won't describe Moline vs. Jacobs.

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