October 20, 2021

23 schools propose expanding playoffs to 48 teams per class instead of districts

Playoff field would expand from 256 teams to 384 teams

The Illinois High School Association's move to the district system was expected to be met with some resistance before being implemented in 2021.

The first charge, of likely several, has been put forth by representatives from 23 different schools – along with the executive secretary for the Western Big Six – in an attempt to stop the implementation of the district system, as first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday.

The proposal, which can be viewed here, is summarized in three major points.

• Expands the playoffs from 32 teams to 48 teams in each classification, with the top 16 teams in each classification receiving a bye in the first week of the playoffs, which is now Week 9 of the regular season.

• The regular season would include eight games, with a Week 9 game option available for non-playoff qualifiers.

• It would replace the district model and return scheduling autonomy to schools.

The expansion of the playoff field from 256 teams to 384 teams, would essentially increase the number of teams that would qualify for the field from 50 to 75 percent of all playoff-eligible schools. Under that rule, all teams with four or more wins during the regular season would qualify, a high percentage of three-win teams would qualify and in some cases two-win teams would make the field.

The proposal would return the responsibility of scheduling to schools, and the proposal argues that expansion of the field will lessen the pressure on athletic administrators to scramble to get to the five-win level to qualify for the playoffs.

It is also suggests a return to the conference scheduling system that we currently operate under.

While this isn't likely to be the only opposition to the district proposal, it is worth nothing that proposals have been made of a very similar nature in the past and did not get the required votes to move along in the balloting process. This proposal is basically a clarified version of a similar proposal that came from John Catalano of Glenbrook North last year that did not receive enough support to be placed on the ballot for consideration. Catalano remains a co-sponsor of this proposal.

Although, it's also worthy of note that a strong disapproval for the original district "mock-up" the IHSA released this spring might be leading schools to consider alternative plans that they may not have considered before.

East Aurora athletic director Fil Torres is one of the lead sponsors of Thursday's proposal, which suggests that while the district proposal may correct some issues with the system, it creates others, and in some cases, creates issues that might have a degenerating effect on the sport.

"Unfortunately, we see the district model as something that is going to hurt football rather than to grow football and that's the big issue," Torres said. "We considered suggesting a proposal that just said, let's scratch it, keep the status quo and act like it never happened.

"But we think that now is a time for change, and I don't think a simple 'take the easy way out' [will work] in saying let's just kill districts. I don't think that's going to create enough votes to pass. The only way I think districts can be overturned is through a new model and not the status quo.

"What we're suggesting is by no means a perfect option, but its a little easier to swallow. We think it helps a lot, it isn't going to solve everything, we're hoping that it lessens the blow with scheduling and travel."

One of the major issues for many schools in regards to districts is the fact that the design is currently based on just two factors: enrollment and geography. Without any sort of balancing formula it will lead to some considerable competitive imbalance in some districts.

"We're trying. We know that there are some schools in our conference and other conferences and schools in the CPS that are going to have to play some schools that will result in some games that won't be good for anybody on both sides," Torres said. "I don't think anybody gains anything from that. I think we've got to think bigger picture here, and we've got to think what's best for football and I don't know if districting is what's best for football."

The schools co-signing the proposal are Antioch, Barrington, Dundee-Crown, East Aurora, Elgin, Elgin Larkin, Glenbrook North, Joliet Central, Joliet West, Lake Forest, Lemont, Moline, Oswego East, Pekin, Plainfield Central, Plainfield North, Rock Island, Romeoville, Stevenson, Wauconda, West Aurora, West Chicago and York.

The final day for parties to submit proposals for change in all sports is Tuesday, Oct. 15.

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.