Historic changes coming in Illinois football

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A landmark decision was made earlier this month changing the entire landscape of Illinois high school football — and many are upset with the results.

The Illinois High School Association put Proposal 23 to a vote by its member schools. The measure passed by a 324-307 margin, with 69 schools choosing not to vote. The narrowness of the voting is one thing, but the sheer number of total votes is another.

Let me explain.

Proposal 23 reads as follows:

It directs the IHSA to implement a football scheduling system for regular-season varsity games involving the following: (a) a 9-week regular season; (b) playoff classes determined in advance of the season; (c) schools from each class placed into eight geographic groups by the IHSA Office to play a round-robin schedule; (d) the remaining games on the regular season schedule to be arranged by the individual schools at their discretion; (e) the top four teams in each of the eight groups qualify for the playoffs, based on games played within each group.

This proposal will take effect beginning with the 2021 season.

This past season, 560 IHSA member schools participated in football.

If you add up the total amount of schools who participated in the voting of this proposal, you will see that the number adds up to 700. What this means is that 140 schools-who do not participate in football-were allowed to vote on this measure. That is not a good thing. What is also not a good thing is that 69 schools decided to not decide. Seventeen votes is the difference between doing things the way that they have been done since the implementation of the current playoff format, and wholesale changes to the system.

So, what does this mean for the Paris Tigers you might ask?

It means that there will no longer be a Little Illini Conference — in football. It means that there will no longer be an Apollo Conference. It means that there will no longer be any conferences, period.

The new term for “conferences” will now be districts. Paris will play seven teams the IHSA will choose based on enrollment and location.

All football schools — including the Tigers — will have two open weeks to scheduled old rivals, teams that are close to them, or anyone of their choosing.

Here’s the thing: Neither pf these two games will count towards the playoff qualification system. Only games played within a district count towards your actual standings in association with the playoff qualifications.

While this new format is still in the infancy stage, there are a few people around the state with extensive knowledge of how enrollments and classifications work who have weighed in on what the districts will look like.

Steve Soucy, who is the sports editor for the Northwest Herald, has been one of the foremost authorities on IHSA football for the last several years.

Upon hearing that this proposal had some traction and could possibly pass, Sourcy broke down what the districts throughout the state might look like.

Using the past year’s class assignment, Paris would be a 4A school. This is based on enrollment numbers that will not count towards the new alignment until 2020.

Possible teams in Paris district could include Clinton, Havana, Hoopeston, Macomb, Quincy (Notre Dame), Stanford (Olympia), and Tolono (Unity).

These district teams would replace Marshall, Casey, Robinson, Newton, Red Hill, Olney, Lawrenceville and Flora on the current schedule.

At the minimum, four of the nine weeks will mean games on the road with travel times ranging from one hour (Tolono) to four hours (Quincy-Notre Dame). The longest current road Little Illini Conference game is Flora which is just under two hours.

Tiger football coach Jeremy Clodfelder voiced his concern on the new format, but stopped short of being completely upset with what may come his way.

“I am not happy with the way the voting went,” said Clodfelder. “What this means is that the rivalries that have been built up over decades are now gone. The ability to gameplan for teams will now be made more difficult early on, and we will not be able to see a kid mature and grow for an opposing team. Being able to scheme against a player such as Drew Moore from Red Hill will now be tougher.”

Another thing this will mean for schools such as Paris — which is basically geographically locked based on their proximity to the Indiana state line and on the far eastern side of the state — is travel will be a nightmare.

Imagine leaving school at 1 or 1:30 p.m. on Friday in order to play a district game across the state. Not to mention the fact that the return trip home will put the players back in their own beds around the 2 a.m. hour in some instances.

While some may say that this will be merely an inconvenience just four Fridays out of the season, ticket sales will also likely take a big hit.

People who attend road games against Little Illini Conference opponents are able to work until 5 p.m. and still have plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and still make it to the field prior to kickoff.

Not any longer.

Perhaps even more importantly, the gate and concessions for home games wil likely suffer. At Paris, the concessions for football are operated by the Paris JFL teams. The funds raised by them support that football program.

Paris High School athletic director Creighton Tarr also weighed in on the subject from a different point of view.

“As an AD, who is going to have some scheduling issues, I am not in favor of the new format,” Tarr observed. “I am worried about lower level football games (JV contests played on Monday nights), what class we will be playing in, finding officiating crews, a major increase in travel expenses, and finding non-district opponents.”

Clodfelder and Tarr both agreed the loss of special rivalry games is near the top of the list of their concerns.

“I hate the possibility of losing some of our special rivalries that we have here,” Tarr noted. “Our Shriners game against Robinson is in jeopardy, and playing local teams like Marshall, Casey, Newton and Olney are all up in the air right now.”

While the vote is going to change a lot of things for Paris, it will also change the way most of us have known football to be throughout the state.

“You will definitely start to see a lot of co-op schools drop one another, so that teams can go to a lower class.” said Tarr. “You will also see several smaller schools join eight-man football.” Eight man football is now sanctioned by the IHSA.

One thing that will not change though is the commitment from both Tarr and Clodfelder to put make the best of the situation — even though it will not be fully clear until the 2021 school year.

“Things change,” said Tarr. “But at the end of the day, the goal of the football team at PHS is, and always will be, to play football the right way and to take pride in playing for our program, our school, and our community.”

As we all know, change will occur. That does not always mean that change is for the better. Until we see how this new system shakes out, it may help ease the sting of such an overwhelming overhaul.

To be continued…..in 2021.