IHSA schools approve football districting starting with 2021 season


BLOOMINGTON – Illinois High School Association (IHSA) member schools approved 11 amendment proposals in the annual by-law referendum that ended Dec. 17, including a proposal to implement a district scheduling system for football starting with the 2021 season. The online ballots were tabulated and certified in the IHSA Office on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

A summary of some of the proposals and the vote totals are as follows: (The numbers in parentheses indicate the total of yes, no, and no opinion votes. For an amendment to pass, yes votes must outnumber no votes.)

  • Proposal 15 (passed 480-186-30): Moves the start of practice to Monday of Week 6 on the IHSA Standardized Calendar for the following sports: boys’ & girls’ cross country, girls’ tennis, boys’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, and girls’ swimming & diving.
  • Proposal 20 (passed 539-79-80): Allows non-varsity football games to be played on Thursday of Week 8 on the IHSA Standardized Calendar.
  • Proposal 23 (passed 324-307-69): Directs the IHSA to implement a football scheduling system for regular-season varsity games that would involve the following: (a) a 9-week regular season, (b) playoff classes determined in advance of the season; (c) schools from each class placed into 8 geographic groups by the IHSA Office to play a round-robin schedule; (d) the remaining games on the regular season schedule to be arranged by the individual schools at their discretion; (e) the top 4 teams in each of the 8 groups qualify for the playoffs, based on games played within each group. This proposal will take effect starting with the 2021 football season.

Proposal 23 is especially significant, as it charges the IHSA with scheduling the majority of regular-season football games for its member schools beginning in the 2021 season, while also changing the playoff qualification process.

“It is a historic change,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “The narrow gap in the voting indicates that there are pros and cons that impact our diverse football-playing membership in a multitude of ways. We hope that it will effectively address conference realignment and scheduling concerns, while helping create long-term sustainability and growth for high school football in the state.”

Beginning in 2021, the IHSA will assign football teams to eight or nine team groupings (i.e. “districts”) based on classification and geography. Previously, schools did not officially know their postseason classification until the completion of the regular-season. The IHSA will assign each school’s regular-season games against their district opponents. Districts will be set for two years, allowing home and away scheduling within the district. Schools will have the autonomy to schedule their non-district opponents for any open weeks, but those non-district games will not count toward playoff qualification. The district assigning process will be similar to how schools are assigned to Regionals and Sectionals in other IHSA sports and activities.

“We understand that everyone wants to know what district and class they will be in, but the reality is that we are two years away from being able to tabulate that information,” said Anderson. “Because IHSA districts will operate on a two-year cycle, schools will need the next two years to evaluate their participation. Some may choose to join coops or disband coops. Some may choose to play eight-man football. Chicago Public Schools will need to determine what schools it will make playoff eligible, and we will also have non-boundaried schools that will change classes in that timeframe as they gain or lose multiplier waivers.”

The IHSA Football Advisory Committee and Board of Directors will work in conjunction with the IHSA staff to begin formulating recommendations on the classification cutoffs for football.

“Obviously, the ideal situation would be 64 schools in each class, giving each of the eight classes eight districts with eight teams apiece,” said Anderson. “The IHSA Football Advisory Committee, Board of Directors, and staff will work together to create policy that addresses situations with more or less than 512 teams.”

A total of 560 IHSA member schools participated in football during the 2018 season and 523 were eligible to qualify for the 2018 IHSA Football Playoffs. The district proposal will not change the IHSA Football Playoffs materially, as there will continue to be eight postseason classes with 32 qualifiers per class. Under the current playoff system in effect through the 2020 football season, conference champions in eligible conferences and any eligible team that wins six, seven, eight or nine regular-season games automatically qualifies for the playoff field. A tie-breaker system determines which five-win teams make the field. Beginning in 2021, the Top 4 teams in each of the eight districts will determine the playoff qualifiers for that class.

“This is the third time (2009, 2014) that a football district proposal has been brought forward to our membership and each time the support has grown,” said Anderson. “It is based on a concept that other state high school associations have used successfully, and we are committed to doing our part to make it successful here in Illinois. The beauty of our legislative system is that our member schools will have input in that process and the ability to offer recommendations on tweaks and changes as we progress.”

A more definitive timeline on the future release dates of districts and schedules will be developed in conjunction with the IHSA Football Advisory Committee over the course of the 2019-20 school year.