Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Soucie: The 2022 football season is finished. What’s next?

East St. Louis' Robert Battle looks to make a move on Prairie Ridge's Joseph Vanderwiel during the Class 6A state championship game in Champaign.

Somehow the IHSA state championship weekend often turns out to be my favorite and least favorite weekend of the year.

During the event, I’m positively thrilled watching the state’s best teams do battle for the ultimate hardware.

But when it is over, melancholy often takes over. It’s the longest possible time I’m going to have to wait before we get back to football.

Hypotheticals often are the favorite pastime of almost everyone involved with state championship weekend, so let’s take a look at a few topics of conversation in Champaign this past weekend.

Private vs. public debate sparks up again

It was an inevitable conversation when the possibility opened up that as many as six private schools could go home with titles.

All six eventually did.

It’s the most championships won by private schools in IHSA history, surpassing the previous high of five in 2004.

Weekends like this always rekindle the conversations regarding the current system’s equity, or lack thereof. Those conversations always center on how much weight should be assigned to private schools and the differences in the enrollment policies between public and private.

Part of the issue, although certainly not to the level of everyone’s satisfaction, will start to see a slight correction. The IHSA’s decision to count the 2020 athletic season as a “zero year” for the calculation of multipliers and/or success formulas led to a significant number of teams sliding down into smaller classifications.

It wasn’t even possible to have any schools subjected to the success formula because of that decision. Additionally, the list of schools that were subjected to the multiplier was in the single digits for the first time since the rule was instituted.

That list will increase in the next two-year enrollment period to 14 multiplied schools and one [Sacred Heart Griffin] being subjected to the success formula.

That’s not enough for some critics. A strong case can be made that the current rules make it harder than it should for programs to be multiplied and easier than it should be to lose the designation.

The current rules seem to have something of a pendulum effect with non-boundaried schools. Schools that previously were multiplied and lose the designation drop down several classes, at which point they tend to do a lot of postseason damage in smaller classifications and then move back up. The cycle repeats itself again and again.

Where will the state finals take us next?

One of the dominating questions of the weekend was where will the next state finals – and the finals in years beyond 2023 – be held?

The rotational system that had the finals switching back between Champaign [University of Illinois] and DeKalb [Northern Illinois University] came to its conclusion Saturday night with the contracts expiring.

The bid specifications put out by the IHSA – if followed to the letter of those requirements – eliminates, or seems to eliminate, multiple potential destinations. In detail, the IHSA seeks a host willing to sign up for a five-year uninterrupted stint, which would preclude schools unable to commit to consistently leave those dates open.

The Big Ten schedule, which requires the Illini to host an opponent in alternate years, was the reason for the recent split bid with NIU in the first place.

The IHSA doesn’t share which facilities put in a bid to host the event. It is, however, publicly known that the University of Illinois has put in a bid to retain the finals, but it also can’t fill every condition of the IHSA’s request.

In any case, the new host, or possibly hosts, will almost certainly be revealed after the IHSA’s board meeting Dec. 7.

Talent on display

One of the great things about the state finals is that it gives an opportunity to see some of the state’s best players in the same place at the same time.

It affords me the opportunity to see players I haven’t seen all season, or in some cases, get reacquainted with those I haven’t seen in awhile.

And while I’ve never once claimed to be a talent scout, I’m sometimes astonished when I see a player garnering little to no college interest bust out a monster performance at a state championship game.

It happened again Saturday as I watched Peoria running back Malachi Washington run all over Nazareth’s defense, tying a long-standing state record with six touchdowns.

After the game my jaw probably needed to be reattached when I learned he hasn’t received much interest in regard to his future destination as a football player. Once again, not a talent scout, but I’m absolutely shocked there’s not a line around the block for a player of Washington’s caliber.

Other personal favorites already have solidified their futures, the most notable being East St. Louis offensive lineman Miles McVay, who will be headed to Alabama in the fall. McVay seemingly has been omnipresent on the high school football scene, having contributed to the Flyers’ success since his freshman year.

What are we looking forward to in 2023?

After working with the same numbers for what feels like several years, the new enrollment numbers for the 2023-24 seasons will be released in the spring.

On top of that, there are some huge shifts going on in conferences this offseason.

The CCL/ESCC is going to look significantly different as three new teams – Aurora Central Catholic, St. Francis and IC Catholic Prep – are leaving the Metro Suburban Conference, which is now defunct, and joining the CCL/ESCC. That increases the league’s membership from 22 to 25 and makes the league’s current four-team division setup look like it won’t be possible moving forward.

The remaining members of the Metro Suburban have sprinkled about, some forming new conferences such as the Chicagoland Prairie Conference and the Chicagoland Christian Conference. Riverside-Brookfield is heading to the Southland Conference for a football-only arrangement to give that league an even number of teams moving forward and thus eliminating some major scheduling issues.

In smaller school league news, the Lincoln Trail and Prairie Land Conferences have merged into a small- and large-division format, while the Vermilion Valley Conference is going to a closed conference after seeing its membership drop from 12 teams to 10.

All in all, more than 2,000 games will be scheduled [if they haven’t already been] for the 2023 season. Each game is part of a much larger puzzle, which will heavily impact which teams we’re talking about in this space next year.

I’m already ready to start the discussion.