Illinois high school football's governing body is overhauling its conferences, in a move that's intended to helps schools play similar-size programs.
Illinois High School Association schools have voted to create a district format that will lock schools into a specific class designation every two years.
The IHSA will assign schools to geographic districts according to size. Districts will be made up of eight schools, and those schools will play each other in the final seven weeks of the regular season.
The eight-class system will remain in place while the top four teams in each district will qualify for the playoffs.
Normal Community High School football coach Jason Drengwitz said the positives outweigh the negatives for the Ironmen.
“There’s definitely positives when it comes to scheduling,” Drengwitz said. “The negatives are, we could be looking at some distance to travel to play some of those games.”
Drengwitz said NCHS has struggled to fill open dates on its schedule in recent years.
“It allows us to play (more Class) 7A opponents,” Drengwitz said. “That helps prepare us for the postseason just like our regular season does now, but it allows us to play some schools that are closer to our size."
Drengwitz acknowledged the shift would likely mean longer road trips and possibly additional Saturday games, depending on which schools are included in the same district. There are few schools comparable to Normal Community’s enrollment of 2,091 students within a 90-mile radius.
“It definitely presents a logistical challenge, but it is only three or four times a year,” Drengtwitz said, adding it also offers the excitement of possibly playing schools it hasn’t seen much of before.
He said the school should still be able to maintain its rivalry games with Normal West and Bloomington. Schools will schedule out-of-district opponents in the first two weeks of the season. Those games will have no bearing on the postseason.
The IHSA approved the proposal in a 324-to-307 vote by member schools.
Bloomington High School Athletic Director Tony Bauman told GLT that BHS voted against the proposal because it has too many unanswered questions.
"Some of it's just fear of the unknown," Bauman said.
He said BHS is concerned that it could potentially lose one of its rivarly games with Normal Community and Normal West because the three schools would not be able to all play each other in the first two weeks of the season if they are placed in different classes.
Last season, Bloomington and Normal West both played in 6A, while Normal Community competed in 7A.
Bauman said even if those rivalry games continue, they could lose some of their appeal since out-of-district games will no longer count toward playoff eligibility.
"Between the coaches and the players, there's still going to be enough of a grudge there that people will put their hearts into it, but at the same time coaches (might think) do they really want to risk an injury," Bauman said.
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