Here’s the expanded football playoff plan that could be the IHSA’s solution to conference hopping

DeKalb's Cole Latimer throws gets rid of the ball ahead of the Naperville Central pass rush during their game Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, at Naperville Central High School.


It’s the main benefit of switching from the IHSA’s current football playoff format to a district-based one. A proposal that was once again shot down. Disappointing for sure. But also not even a little surprising.

Conference instability sadly is the norm and is driven more often than not by football. But it also has repercussions that extend beyond the gridiron. If we’re not going to use a district system to fix the problem, and it’s becoming more and more clear we’re not, let’s expand the playoffs to 384 teams and see what that can do.

Plus, there’s a way to expand the postseason that could solve not only conference-hopping by letting two and/or three-win teams in but help with private-public inequity as well, if that’s something people feel is a problem.

So playoff time rolls around and right now the top 256 teams qualify. They are split into eight classes of 32 teams each. Instead, let’s split the top 384 teams into six classes of 64 teams each. Then, within each class, separate them into two divisions. You could do this in a straightforward manner, with the largest being Class 6A, Division I, then 6A-II, and so on.

And those divisions can offer all types of flexibility. You could just split them into the largest 32 teams in the class and the smallest. You could use the current success multiplier to create more balance. You could even go as far as to mandate a certain number of non-boundary schools into the larger division, for instance all of them, two-thirds of them, a certain percentage of the field.

You still have a 32-team field. You’d crown 12 state champions this way instead of eight. Most importantly, three wins is the new five. And two wins become the new four. According to Friday Night Drive’s expert in everything Steve Soucie, nine of the 45 two-win teams last season would have qualified in a 384-team field.

It will just increase the importance of nonconference games and maybe encourage more eight-team conferences as opposed to 10. It lets teams in a down cycle maybe schedule other struggling teams while letting teams with higher expectations really push themselves with their nonconference games.

You’d also have to add a second state championship site or a third day. But that’s also more revenue, so it doesn’t seem like it would be an issue and either way is a relatively easy fix. A full day of small-school state title games in Springfield or something certainly seems like a draw.

When a conference blows up it affects every sport. Yet it’s usually one sport that’s driving the chaos.

DeKalb in the DuPage Valley Conference isn’t an ideal situation for any school involved. But everyone is making it work because they have to. A six-team Interstate 8 that features completely different teams than the I-8 of a decade ago isn’t an ideal situation. But everyone is trying to make it work the best they can.

If schools are willing to blow up conferences to head to one they think has a better shot of offering five wins, let’s just lower the bar. If teams were chasing two or three wins, it would probably slow down the rate teams bailed on a conference for football-only reasons. If a school can’t pick up two or three wins, switching conferences really isn’t going to solve that.

Conference stability is a thing of the past, if it even ever existed. Instability weakens all sports, not just football. Since districts aren’t ever going to be a thing apparently, let’s open the doors and see if that settles things down.

It certainly can’t make things worse.