August 07, 2022
Analysis | Friday Night Drive


Bubble Watch: Steve Soucie on what class your school could fall in come playoff time

At least 84 percent of the playoff field has returned to the field since expansion

Attempting to project the classification break lines for the 256-team playoff field before any of the 513-playoff eligible teams have recorded a single result on their season ledger isn't exactly an exact science.

But there are some indicators that have always happened and will likely continue to happen as long as the playoffs are decided in the fashion that they currently are.

At least 84 percent of the 256-team field has returned to the playoff field after making it the previous year in every single season since the field expanded from 192 teams to 256. (Last year there was an 87 percent repeat rate from playoff performers).

So that gives us a pretty good idea of the variant involved in trying to compute where the playoff breaks might occur and it stands to reason that the breaks always seem to end up circling the same teams.

The variant to all of this is the factors that go beyond a school's simple base enrollment. The three most notable ones of these are which teams elect to play up (this year there appears to be just one in Chicago Phillips), whether or not a team receives a multiplier waiver or not and the implementation of the success formula which fundamentally only applies to this season IC Catholic and Nazareth.

And once we get a look at this picture, get used to it. Because for the first time, the IHSA is using the same enrollment numbers over a two-year span. The numbers being used to sort the 2019-2020 season are the same numbers that will be used to sort the 2020-21 season as well.

There a numerous interesting teams that saw a classification switch largely due to a multiplier waiver change in status, but most likely the most interesting team in regards to the classification stack is the status of East St. Louis. The Flyers have "played up" over the past few seasons, but will not be allowed to do so by a rule passed by the SouthWestern Conference and will now be playing in either Class 5A or Class 6A, instead of battling in a loaded 7A field.

The numbers indicate a strong likelihood that the Flyers could end up in 5A, although they are definitely on the high side of schools in that enrollment group. But if it materializes and East St. Louis does end up in Class 5A, a classification that has been maligned in years past for not having much top shelf depth all of the sudden becomes a monster.

The Flyers could potentially be joined in a 5A playoff field by teams like a resurgent Joliet Catholic program that copped the 5A title a year ago, Montini, Springfield-Sacred Heart Griffin, Hillcrest, Sycamore, Sterling, St. Rita and possibly Dunlap the potential field contains a few more heavy hitters than in years past.


Smallest schools projected into Class 8A: Edwardsville, Maine South, O'Fallon, Bartlett, Niles West.

Largest schools projected into Class 7A (schools the closest to be added to the 8A field): Brother Rice, Glenbard West, Conant, Plainfield North, Stagg

The bubble is always a fascinating watch between 7A/8A as some of the power programs reside right on both sides of the current line.

Brother Rice seems to constantly be bouncing back and forth between the line and is constantly in limbo between the two classes. A misstep or two by programs that typically punch playoff tickets and Brother Rice could very easily slide right back into the Class 8A fray.

Conversely, upstart larger schools that maybe are not playoff regulars can punch their way in and cause an inverse effect pushing schools like Edwardsville and Maine South out of 8A into 7A.

Although Class 8A is actually the easiest of the eight classes to project (less variables to putting the field together), that doesn't mean it is actually EASY.

Class 7A

Largest schools projected into Class 7A (schools the closest to being added to the 8A field): Brother Rice, Glenbard West, Conant, Plainfield North, Stagg.

Smallest schools projected into Class 7A (schools the closest to potentially being added to the 6A field): DeKalb, Grant, Rockford Auburn, Maine East, Argo.

Class 7A construction is always interesting to watch because of what happens at the fringes. Brother Rice and Glenbard West are two programs that always seem to flirt with the line between 7A and 8A and the top, while the 6A/7A bubble always has interesting teams lurking around that line most notably this year with DeKalb (currently listed as a 7A), T.F. South (6A) and Cary-Grove (who looks fairly solid as a 6A).

Class 6A

Largest schools projected into 6A (schools closest to being added to the 7A field): T.F. South, Granite City, Blue Island Eisenhower, Thornton, Quincy.

Smallest schools projected into 6A (schools closest to being moved to the 5A field): St. Patrick, Oak Forest, Steinmetz, Antioch, Simeon.

The field adjustment in certain areas actually lead to a potentially weakening of the Class 6A field especially when you consider how close Simeon actually is from dropping into the 5A field. The Wolverines were the school with the largest enrollment drop due to a multiplier waiver, dropping nearly 900 students from their count.

Class 5A

Largest schools projected into 5A (schools closest to being added to the 6A field): Dunlap, Galesburg, East St. Louis, Champaign (Central), Belvidere

Smallest schools projected into 5A (schools closest to being added to the 4A field): Lincoln, Jerseyville (Jersey), St. Viator, Evergreen Park, Waterloo

Class 5A is another class that will be shaped heavily by what happens at the top and bottom of the cut lines. 5A's enrollment spread often wildly varies and that's largely due to the fact that there are just 32 football playing schools in the entire state that have football enrollments between 700 and 900 students, meaning the cut line could vary wildly based on what happens inside of that group of schools.

Class 4A

Largest schools projected into 4A (schools closest to being added to the 5A field): Geneseo, Charleston, Hyde Park, Peoria (Notre Dame), Mount Zion

Smallest schools projected into 4A (schools closest to being added to the 3A field): Harrisburg, Herscher, Roxana, Tolono Unity, Wood River-East Alton, Mendota

One of the few fields that seems to remain relatively consistent from year to year. The wildcard as always here is the number of Chicago Public League teams that qualify into 4A. CPL teams are largely a difficult predictor in the system, but none more so than in 4A, where nearly 20 percent of the projected teams to land in 4A come from the CPL ranks.

Class 3A

Largest schools projected into 3A (schools closest to being added to the 4A field): Clark, Phoenix, Greenville, Monmouth, Staunton

Smallest schools projected into 3A (schools closest to be added to the 2A field): Pana, Marshall, Nashville, Christopher, Quincy Notre Dame.

Considering that there is only a 133 student gap between the smallest projected school in 3A and the largest one, there's obviously a tight concentration of teams and one subtle shift can have an impact on the field's concentration.

The break line on the low side is usually around the 400 student mark, which is particularly compelling because of the presence of some pretty solid programs on both side of that mythical border line.

Class 2A

Largest schools projected into 2A (schools closest to being added to the 3A field): St. Teresa, Aubum, Mercer County, Westville, West Prairie

Smallest schools projected into 2A (schools closest to being added to the 1A field): Lawrenceville, Sesser-Valier, Carlyle, Chester, Gibson City-Melvin Sibley

Another classification where the student gap is extremely tight (just 88 students from top to bottom) which makes who shapes the top and the bottom of the classification extremely significant. Several power players are the largest teams in the classification and the most fascinating development to monitor is once again how close stalwart Gibson City-Melvin Sibley is to slipping into the Class 1A field.

Class 1A

Largest schools projected into 1A (schools closest to being added to the 2A field): Watseka, Nokomis, Tremont, Tuscola, Fithian Oakwood.

There's rightfully a lot of intrigue as to where the line breaks in 1A with perennial powers Tuscola residing just under the 1A projected break and GCMS residing just above it in 2A.

But there's no uncertainty about where the likely class favorite, Lena-Winslow, will reside. As the 23rd smallest football playing school in Illinois there's no mathematical way they can be in any class other than 1A.

Steve Soucie

Steve Soucie

Steve Soucie has been the Sports Editor at the Joliet Herald News since August of 2018. Prior to that, Soucie worked at the Kankakee Daily Journal and for Pro Football Weekly.