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IHSA releases 2022 season schedule; number of playoff-eligible programs holds firm

Lockport's Cody Silzer holds up the championship trophy after their 24-6 win against Maine South in the Class 8A state championship on Nov. 27, 2021 at NIU's Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

The precipitous decline of playoff-eligible schools in 11-man football for the IHSA has reached an impasse for now at least.

For the first time in over a decade, there currently is no drop in the number of teams eligible to compete in the postseason as the number of teams sent to compete held firm at 494 teams.

Those 494 teams now have their road maps in trying to reach the state finals, which this year will be held at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The IHSA released the full 2022 season schedule Thursday.

It also might be the last year U of I hosts the finals, with the IHSA seeking bids for a venue capable of hosting the finals every year for a five-year term. Illinois can currently only host the finals every other year, and has been trading seasons with Northern Illinois because of a Big Ten scheduling conflict. That decision likely will be announced around the time the state finals are contested in late November.

The primary reason the number of participating teams held was that there was a major change in the way that the Chicago Public League decided to structure itself for the 2022 season.

Last season, and for several previous seasons, CPL schools were divided into divisions of six teams. In 2021, the CPL had 48 teams that started the season eligible for postseason play.

Also in past seasons, Week 9 of the regular season served as the opening round of the CPL playoffs with teams’ opponents not declared until after the conclusion of Week 8 games.

This season, the CPL will have 52 teams which are eligible for the postseason with seven divisions. Five of those divisions will have eight teams, and play seven divisional games with two nonconference games while two divisions will have six teams and playing additional crossover games against the other six-team division to fill the schedule.

The opening round CPL playoff matchups have been pushed into the “postseason” with qualifying teams playing after their IHSA playoff stints have ended. It will also allow for more clarity in how the playoff fields will be constructed.

Additionally, CPL-playoff eligible teams changed a bit as well with Harlan, Lindblom, Noble Street/Johnson, Orr, Prosser, Solorio and Washington losing playoff-eligible status. Corliss, Crane, Dyett, Little Village, Noble Street/Hansberry, Noble Street/Pritzker, Noble Street/Rowe-Clark, Noble Street/UIC, Chicago Richards, Senn, South Shore and UCCS/Woodlawn gaining playoff eligibility.

With the CPL jumping the number of eligible teams up by four, it balances out the other four programs that no longer have 11-man football teams set to play this season.

• Cambridge-Ridgewood (0-9 last season) has dropped into the 8-man football ranks. The Lincoln Trail Conference now has eight teams rather than nine because of the defection.

• East Dubuque (3-6) now is in a cooperative agreement with a school in Wisconsin. The Northwest Upstate Illini, which as recently as a few years ago had two full divisions of schools, has now dwindled in membership to nine teams.

• Sandwich (0-9) recently announced that it would not be playing a varsity schedule this season. The Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 Blue Division now has six members, and as of this moment just a few of the teams on Sandwich’s canceled schedule have been able to find replacement games. Teams will receive forfeit wins over Sandwich if they cannot.

Westmont (1-8), which has struggled with participation numbers for several seasons, does not appear on the IHSA’s master schedule. Six of Westmont’s opponents already have found other opponents to play, but three have declined to fill the date at this point.

As of Thursday, 16 teams have been unable to fill all weeks of their schedule. One team, Aurora Central Catholic, currently has two openings as it had scheduled both Westmont and Sandwich.

Teams with vacancies on their schedules currently are:

WeekTeams missing game
Week 1Aurora Central Catholic, Bradley-Bourbonnais, Dunbar, Proviso East
Week 2Dunbar, East Moline United, Loyola, UCCS-Woodlawn
Week 3Plano
Week 4RIchmond-Burton
Week 5Johnsburg
Week 6Leo, Thornton
Week 7Nokomis
Week 8Fenwick, Marengo
Week 9Aurora Central Catholic

Several teams also needed to add teams from outside Illinois to fill their slates with 37 out-of-state opponents on this year’s schedule. As is its custom, East St. Louis used all of its nonconference dates to play out-of-state opponents, including an interesting trip to play national power St. Frances Academy out of Baltimore to kick off the 2022 campaign. Loyola also is locking horns with a national power, as it hosts St. Xavier out of Cincinnati to kick off its schedule.

Missouri (11 opponents) and Wisconsin (10 opponents) lead the way on out-of-state opponents while Indiana (8), Kentucky (3), Michigan (2), Maryland (1), Ohio (1) and Georgia (1) round out the list.

There are no new conferences this season. The Chicago Public League assigned new names to its divisions changing to a color/directional label system similar to what is used in basketball. Notable changes on the horizon are a realignment of the CCL/ESCC to accommodate for recent success patterns and the addition of new/returning teams, the debut of the Chicagoland Christian Conference and the merger of the Lincoln Trail and Prairieland Conferences. All of these moves are slated for the 2023-24 season.

Marian Central currently is incorrectly listed as a member of the CCL/ESCC Red Division. The Hurricanes have left the league, although they still play one remaining conference member in what is now a nonconference game. They are one of only 13 schools with no conference affiliation.

Enrollment numbers will remain the same for the 2022 season and no schools will be subjected to the success formula. Four schools will complete their two-year term of electing to play up in classification: Loyola (playing up to 8A), East St. Louis (6A), IC Catholic (3A) and Joliet Catholic [if enrollment places the Hilltoppers in 3A, they will voluntarily play in 4A]. Only nine schools (Brother Rice, Marist, Mount Carmel, St. Rita, St. Teresa, Nazareth, Quincy Notre Dame, Rockford Boylan and Newman Central Catholic) face multipliers to their enrollment. Those numbers will be re-evaluated in the offseason for the next two-year enrollment classifications, set to be implemented for the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

The ranks of 8-man football expanded once again. Now at an all-time high of 29 teams, up from 24 last season, the 8-man association has divided into five smaller regions as opposed to the north/south breakdown it utilized last season.

Aforementioned Cambridge-Ridgewood joined 8-man from the 11-man ranks, Schlarman and Rockford Christian Life are returning to the 8-man mix after taking at least a season off, while Harvest Christian and Parkview Christian have instituted brand new programs.

Another interesting wrinkle of the schedule is a growing number of regular-season games scheduled for Thursday. There currently are 93 games slated to kick off on Thursday nights. The custom is somewhat common in the Chicago Public League, and about two-thirds of those 93 games still are Chicago Public League games.

But that still leaves about 30 games already scheduled – and likely to increase – for Thursdays, which is well above the norm. The prospect for that number to increase certainly exists with a very real officiating shortage starting to cut into the availability of Friday night crews.