When news of the imminent return of high school sports broke, the mood inside Mount Carmel High School changed.
“The spirit at the school just picked up immediately,” Mount Carmel athletic director Dan LaCount said.
Within days, athletic teams were beginning their contact days in preparation for abbreviated seasons this spring and summer. The news ignited a scheduling frenzy across the state in all sports. Contingency plans prepared throughout the summer and fall kicked into motion.
Schools are allowed to play games against opponents within their health regions, within their conferences or within a 30-mile radius. For football, a six-week season beginning with the first games on March 19 and ending on April 24 provides enough time for six games.
While the shortened season allows some opportunities to get creative with scheduling, the CCL/ESCC is keeping its schedule as close to normal as possible.
In central Illinois, the Big 12 Conference added Quincy Notre Dame for football only, giving the conference 12 teams. With three division of four teams, each school will play a round-robin against its division opponents, followed by a playoff over three weeks, with additional matchups for every team in the conference.
Friday Night Drive’s Steve Soucie speculated that the CCL/ESCC already had the mechanisms in place to do something similar, but that will not happen. The merged football conference between the Chicago Catholic League and the East Suburban Catholic Conference competed in its first season in 2019, with 24 schools split into six divisions of four teams. As part of the agreement, the conference’s divisions can realign every two years to provide the most parity among the divisions.
The conference has a formula it uses based on enrollment, football participation numbers, and performance from the previous two seasons to make any changes to the division alignment and schedule. LaCount said that because performance plays a part in the formula, it made the most sense to keep the schedule as similar as possible to what all the schools agreed upon when the conference formed.
“What we wanted to do was try to stay to the model that we have so that we can use this data for next year to change up the schedule,” LaCount said. “We did look at other options. Five games and a ‘Super Bowl’ weekend or whatever, but as a league we decided to stick with what we had and hopefully get the games in so that we can refresh the schedule next year.”
This spring, member schools will play all three division opponents, as well as three crossover games with opponents in other divisions. During a normal nine-game season, CCL/ESCC teams play three division games, four crossover games and have two additional nonconference games – with which schools are free to schedule whomever they’d like. With a six-game season in spring 2021, the two nonconference games and one crossover game were eliminated.
The conference scheduling committee tried its best to eliminate crossover games that presented the most imbalance between opponents.
“When we went into this league with CCL and the ESCC together, we knew that there were going to be some of those lopsided games,” LaCount said. “But we also knew that each year, every school was going to have some really good, competitive games. But we did try to eliminate those [lopsided games] as best we could. That’s been our formula for these years.”
Travel didn’t play too much of a factor. All health regions in the state have now moved into Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan. Given that all 24 schools are conference members, they are allowed to play each other regardless of which health regions they are located in.
“Given our conference, long trips are inevitable,” St. Viator football coach and assistant athletic director Dave Archibald said. “They’re built in. When you go from Chicago Heights to Mundelein to Woodstock, travel’s going to be involved no matter what. It’s part of our league. But part of the greatness of our league is that we get to play such great competition from all over Chicagoland.”
LaCount said the CCL/ESCC will also do its best to help schools reschedule should an opponent have to drop a game because of COVID-19 protocols.
After all these months, schools are simply happy to have games on the schedule.
“We’re certainly thrilled about the prospect for football and it seems much more likely now than it did even just weeks ago,” Archibald said.