Like it or hate it, the Illinois High School Association’s process of multiplying private and nonboundaried schools shapes the way the postseason fields look in all sports.
None more so than in football.
In ordinary setups to the upcoming season, about 20 to 25 teams are multiplied and a few more teams might also face the success formula, forcing them up into a larger classification.
But due to the IHSA’s decision to basically not count the 2020-21 season toward the multiplier calculation, the number of schools multiplied for the next two seasons took a dramatic dip down to just nine.
Those nine schools (Brother Rice, Marist, Mount Carmel, St. Rita, Decatur St. Teresa, Nazareth, Quincy Notre Dame, Sterling Newman Central and Rockford Boylan) will likely end up in the postseason classifications that people are accustomed to seeing them come the playoffs in late October.
But there’s a whole host of other schools with great playoff pedigrees – such as Joliet Catholic, Loyola, IC Catholic and Montini – that won’t face the multipliers this year. If they elect not to “play up,” they will drop down classes. In some cases, several classes, for postseason purposes.
Only one school (Chicago Phillips) voluntarily elected to play up the last time we played the postseason. Phillips played in Class 7A although its enrollment likely would have placed it in the 4A field had it elected to play up. There hasn’t been word if Phillips is subject to having to play up, as it stands to reason that the two-year obligation of playing up would be met despite not having a postseason in 2020, or Phillips could choose to renew. Schools do have some time to make that decision, and it seems as if many are mulling that possibility currently.
Why did this happen?
The basic qualifier for being multiplied is that you win a minimum of three postseason games over a two-year period. Since there was only one year (2019) to measure off that standard, and no adjustment was made for the fact that no postseason was held in 2020, teams only had one year to amass those three playoff wins. Therefore any team that didn’t reach a minimum of the semifinal round in 2019 was no longer subjected to the multiplier.
The success formula went away all together. Success-formula teams have been forced to move up one class if a certain threshold is met. The current standard is state trophies in two consecutive seasons. Once again, since there was no 2020 postseason, it wasn’t possible for any team to amass state trophies in consecutive years over the designated evaluation period.
And with the somewhat recent decision to now classify teams for two years instead of just one, these enrollment numbers will stand for not only the 2021 season, but the 2022 season as well.
It will take a while for everything to shake out. Many of the enrollment numbers – both for private and public schools – saw substantial changes.
As such, don’t take anything for granted in regards to the classifications where schools usually land. There will be movement, and there will likely be a lot of it.
A closer look at conference changes
As for the schedule itself, there wasn’t a lot of volatility, but a few conferences did shake some things up.
There were a few conference shakeups inside of divisions, including a somewhat notable shakeup in the CCL/ESCC. The stalwart CCL/ESCC Blue remained the same, but nearly all of the other divisions saw some sort of change.
Some conferences expanded and merged. The Interstate Eight and Kishwaukee River merger is probably the most interesting of those. The White Division of that league now features LaSalle-Peru, Kaneland, Morris, Ottawa, Sycamore, Woodstock and Woodstock North. The Blue Division includes Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo, Plano, Richmond-Burton, Rochelle and Sandwich.
The Cahokia Conference was a rare conference that actually undertook a rather large expansion. The seven-team league added four Prairie State Conference teams, a former Black Diamond Conference squad and another from the Southern Illinois River-to-River to form a 12-team, two-division league.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s departure to the Illini Prairie Conference to replace St. Thomas More, which left for 8-man football prior to the 2019 season, caused a ripple effect with its former league, the Sangamon Valley. The SVC is now gone, with the league’s remaining six teams merging with the Vermilion Valley to form two six-team (North and South) divisions.
Rockford Christian took Mendota’s spot in the Big Northern when Mendota left to join the Three Rivers Conference.
That vacancy was created by Fulton’s departure to the Northwest Upstate Illini. Even with the addition of Fulton, the league was forced into a major overhaul and now will be one, nine-team league after having two divisions for quite some time. Several teams left to head to 8-man football, whose ranks now stand at 27 planned squads, while another (West Carroll) announced it wouldn’t be playing varsity football this season, which necessitated all of the changes.
Independent teams, or teams without conferences, swelled to 12 this year. That’s one of the larger numbers of non-affiliated teams in recent memory.
There are 494 playoff eligible schools currently slated to start the season. There are also 31 schools from the Chicago Public League that are not eligible to participate in the playoffs. This is down yet again from the 513 schools that were eligible the last time we had a postseason in 2019.
Programs departing to 8-man football is a part of the reason number continues to decline. Schools closures (Westchester St. Joseph) and cooperative programs also play a part in the slope downward.
Out-of-state schools still are all over the landscape, particularly from Missouri. Twenty different Missouri teams play at least one Illinois team this season, with quite a few of them playing more than one. Illinois teams will also play schools from California (1), Florida (1), Wisconsin (6), Michigan (6), Iowa (1), Kentucky (4), Ohio (1) and Indiana (5).
East St. Louis easily plays the most diverse schedule of Illinois teams, traveling to both Mississippi (playing Florida’s IMG Academy at a neutral site) and California (John Bosco) as well as locking horns with two teams from Missouri (Christian Brothers and De Smet Jesuit).
Nine teams have not been able to fill all nine dates on their schedule as of yet. Fieldcrest (Week 1), Loyola (Week 2), Peoria (Week 2), Oblong/Palestine (Week 3), Marian Central (Week 4), Nokomis (Week 5), Madison (Week 6), Benet (Week 7) and Christ the King (Week 7) are still scrambling to fill a spot in order to not go one game short.