Steve Soucie: What would the 2019 playoffs have looked like in a district model?

Think Class 8A is a gauntlet now? Put it in districts

As the votes are being recorded on whether or not if Illinois football will move forward with the district program currently scheduled to begin in 2021, what would it have looked like if districts were already here in 2019?

After taking a comprehensive look at the "mock" districts put out by the Illinois High School Association in May and making many, many adjustments based on enrollment shifts, applying or removing multiplier waivers, success formula additions, teams playing up, I've projected what the playoffs might have looked like if we were using the district formula now instead of applying them for the 2021 season.

For the purposes of this exercise, if you had a 11-man team in 2019 you were included here. Included schools were programs like Kirkland Hiawatha and Peoria Heights that have made it known they are transitioning to 8-man football and programs like Rich East and Chicago Harper that are believed to be shuttering their doors at the end of the year.

However, the original IHSA mock included programs that had football in the 2018 season which necessitated the removal of several schools that either dropped their program such as Chicago Urban Prep-West, Chicago CICS-Ellison, Mooseheart or transitioned into 8-man football.

When all of those machinations are done, we are left with 544 schools that had 11-man football teams in 2019, 31 of which where playoff ineligible schools from the Chicago Public League.

That leaves 68 schools to be placed in each of the eight classifications. By doing this, it requires that each of the classifications has four districts with eight teams and four districts with nine teams. Since there's been no published documentation as to how that will be handled, the process used was simply geography.

I used the IHSA mock as a guideline for districting teams, even in some cases where I didn't really agree with how they grouped. When alterations had to be made, and many had to be made, teams were attempted to keep a geographically clustered as the map would allow.

Considering the original mock appears to have used 2018 enrollment numbers for classification and did not apply a success formula or teams "playing up", I switched the enrollment numbers to 2019 numbers and applied all the same rules to the schools that we are currently using in order to get as precise as possible in regards to where the classification breaks would fall.

These will obviously change if we are playing districts as 8-man football will likely take more teams from the number listed above and there's still some uncertainty as to whether or not the Chicago Public League would include of its schools in the process. But that's a hornet's nest for another day's discussion.

It's an important distinction to watch for, although the list is considerably more likely to have teams pulled out of the draw from the smallest classifications primarily due to 8-man defections, many of the CPS schools that haven't played in the playoffs before are right in the middle of the overall draw.

Rochester's currently sitting as the smallest school in the 68-team projected Class 5A field, and many schools that you typically consider large Class 5A, Class 6A and Class 7A schools find themselves up one class when you include everyone in the process.

Once the district were set up, I went through and projected the top four teams in each district. The rankings were not decided solely on record, although they played a strong consideration in the rankings, schedule strength was also heavily considered and I played out the districts as if they would be playing one another.

Class 1A

Number of Class 1A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 26

I was actually surprised that only two Class 1A playoff teams (Athens and Arthur) were moved up to the Class 2A field when you work with straight enrollment.

Four teams lost their bids due to stronger district placement (Cambridge, Havana, White Hall North Greene, Orangeville) and were replaced by teams in other lighter districts. None of the six added teams to the field achieved five victories on the season.

One district, which I'm calling 1A-District 2, produced just two playoff teams, the only teams in the group that won more than three games in 2019.

Class 2A

Number of Class 2A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 25

The biggest thing here is that you start to see some major turnover in regards to how teams were placed in the original mock. 12 teams were added to 2A and as such 12 had to leave including Class 2A runner-up Nashville and Pana who are both pushed to 3A.

Three teams were placed in the field with losing records including one (Belleville Althoff) that I projected to win District 7. Many of the bracketing problems in 2A stem from a very thin District 3 grouping.

Class 3A

Number of Class 3A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 27

There were two interesting sidenotes in the 3A field. District 3 was the biggest problem for returning playoff teams as seven of them found themselves placed in that nine-team group. The vacancies were filled largely by teams that qualified in other playoff classifications (two from Class 2A and two from Class 4A).

Class 4A

Number of Class 4A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 24

There are two districts that stick out like a sore thumb in the district formula as District 3 and District 4 produced just three playoff teams from the group of 18 teams in those two districts. This is where the largest concentration of teams that failed to qualify in the current system and had sub-.500 records congregates.

Class 5A

Number of Class 5A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 25

A couple of things stood out from the 5A scenario. Five of the seven teams that didn't return to the playoff field was because of being bumped up to Class 6A for playoff classifications. The other two teams that didn't return were because of a stacked District 8, where six teams recorded at least seven wins in 2019.

Conversely, District 2 is quite thin on quality. Just one team in the grouping qualified for the playoffs (Chicago Payton) and it was also the first and only time a team was projected to make the playoffs in the district system that wasn't even playoff eligible in the current system (Noble Street/Bulls).

Class 6A

Number of Class 6A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 26

Most of the changes here were spawned from the enrollment shift that saw several playoff caliber teams shift from Class 5A to Class 6A. There were just enough to go around for the most part, but District 3 and District 4 are really thin on quality teams.

Class 7A

Number of Class 7A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 25

Another class where a lot of the schools that were 7A playoff teams get pushed up into Class 8A for district classification. Four of the seven teams followed this edict.

Class 8A

Number of Class 7A playoff teams that are projected to return to the postseason field: 23

Think 8A is a gauntlet now? Put it in districts. There's some noticeable imbalances here and when you consider the multiple solid 7A programs that are in the 8A mix in districts things get out of control fast. All nine of the projected teams to be placed in District 6 qualified for the playoffs last season, while District 5 which is separated by a very narrow geographic line has only two.

District 3 and District 4, which each have nine teams are are separated by less than 30 miles of distance, have a violent disparity in quality as well. District 3 teams combined for 61 wins in 2019, while District 4 combined for 27.