Proposed IHSA format shift presents a mixed bag

As recently as two months ago, the concept of district format instead of a conference style appeared realistic for the future of IHSA football.

Perhaps it still is, but Tuscola coach Andy Romine isn't so sure anymore.

"I thought when that first came out, that was going to be pretty popular," said Romine, who took the Warriors to the Class 1A state championship game last November."

"At least from the guys I talked to and the things that I read, I think that's started to falter a little bit, the excitement for that." he added.

A May report from the Chicago Sun-Times' Michael O'Brien suggested a "formal proposal" on turning to district football could be submitted in November 2018.

The IHSA's football advisory committee, at a meeting earlier this year, suggested organizing its prep football programs into eight- or nine-team districts, with eight districts per class. District-game standings would decide playoff qualifiers, and non-district games wouldn't count toward the postseason chase.

The committee proposed that district alignments be determined by enrollment and geography, with districts being reviewed every two seasons.

This discussion was born from recent years' conference shuffling, much of which is centered on football and playoff qualification. During the 2017-18 school year, seven schools in The News-Gazette coverage area began competing in a league different from the one they occupied the year prior.

Various local Little Okaw Valley Conference schools also announced last November that they'd be leaving that league, effective for the 2019-2020 academic year.

"I think the message that the IHSA is sending to us as coaches is clear," St. Joseph-Ogden coach Shawn Skinner said. "If we want a say in changes in the way our sport is structured and in how the postseason is set up, then we need to consider districts."

Why, then, might the mindset be shifting as it relates to districts? It depends on the school.

Romine cited Danville as an example of a large program — the Vikings competed in the Class 6A playoffs last season — that could be hurt by districting, depending on classifications within the Big 12 Conference.

"They're probably going to suburban Chicago four times on the road each year," Romine said. "And that's tough. It's tough on school disticts."

Small schools could face even more challenges, in Romine's estimation. While conference action permits some institutions with low football turnout to find at least a little success, districting may not afford that opportunity.

"I think we're going to see a lot of these smaller schools who are struggling with numbers go to 8-man football," Romine said. "I think that's a good thing for our state to get into, but when you start to see some schools that are doing that, I think that makes it very difficult (to install districts)."

Milford/Cissna Park already has left the Vermilion Valley Conference to play in the new 8-Man League this year and is joined by Judah Christian's first-ever squad, along with five other schools.

Another rules-based concern on Romine's radar is the IHSA Board of Directors' approval of weekly player limitations.

The organization's medical advisory committee put forth a proposal, intended to create a safer game, that contained the following mandates:

— "A player shall not play in more than two games in any one week, and shall not play in more than one game in a single day. A week is defined as the seven-day period running from Friday through the following Thursday."

— "Players cannot play in games on consecutive days or be involved in live contact in practice the day after playing in a game."

— "One play in a game equals a game played."

Romine is not a fan of these changes, which will be implented in the 2019 season, because of the effect it'll have on his non-varsity athletes, who suit up for games on Mondays and Thursdays.

"I think the unintended consequence of that is it's really going to hurt lower-level football," Romine said. "Four, five years down the road, you may see an impact on the overall numbers of high school football."

clikas@news-gazette.com

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports

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