By Kent A. Stock
Last year, once again, the Illinois High School Association put the move to a divisional play format for high school football on the ballot for those schools who field teams. To the surprise of some, member institutions voted in favor of the proposal meaning that the ages old conference structure for football would be done away with in favor of a divisional arrangement as setup by the IHSA.
Immediately, schools began clamoring to know what exactly that might look like come the 2021 season so they could begin making plans. This past May the IHSA answered those demands by putting forth a memo of a mock set-up of just how the divisions might align. By no means is this the final decision or anything official but a guideline to start the conversation on the change over and plenty of conversation has ensued.
Starting out in Class 1A the IHSA proposed several area teams be placed in the Class 1A South District A Division. These schools are Arcola, Central A&M, Cerro Gordo-Bement, Martinsville, Meridian, South Fork (Kincaid), Tri-County and Tuscola.
On the gridiron, this eight-school division keeps the old Tuscola-Arcola rivalry alive and geographically most schools are somewhat close to one another with the exceptions being Martinsville and South Fork.
CGB and Arcola, former LOVC schools and soon to be Lincoln Prairie Conference schools, will find themselves in, once again, with Martinsville of the old LOVC. Martinsville has struggled to field a team in recent years so, if the Blue Streaks are unable to compete, that will leave this Division one school short right out of the starting gate.
Although Tuscola and Arcola will be seen as the premier teams in this division to start out, this proposed group could be very competitive and the two might find themselves fending off some of the others very quickly.
In Class 2A South Division B some things make sense in the grouping while others might be considered a head scratcher. Having LPC (former LOVC) members Arthur Lovington Atwood Hammond, Villa Grove-Heritage, Sangamon Valley and Decatur Lutheran School Association teams together is a reasonable arrangement. The other schools in this nine-team Division make things a bit more complicated. Those schools are Decatur St. Teresa, Marshall, Nokomis, Pana, and Shelbyville.
Geographically, Shelbyville and St. Teresa make sense although St. T looks to be the beast right now among all the schools in the group. Pana, Marshall and Nokomis really have very little affiliation with the other six members of the group either geographically or traditionally.
VGH probably has the toughest draw travel wise, but it will only be one or two games a season unless all three of the most distant schools somehow make it on the away or home list in one year which is not highly likely.
In Class 3A South Division B, Sullivan-Okaw Valley finds themselves in a tough eight-team group with long distance travel to boot. The Redskins are grouped in a division with the following opponents: Dwight, Herscher, Monticello, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Reed-Custer, St. Joseph-Ogden and Champaign St. Thomas More.
Class 4A South District B has schools who seem roughly compatible with one glaring exception; Hoopeston Area/Armstrong-Potomac who are completely out place geographically and competitively.
Tolono Unity is in this group that stretches from the north with Bloomington Central Catholic and Normal U-High to the south with Effingham and Paris. Clinton and Rantoul are the other teams in the division.
Class 5A South District B has a good chunk of Apollo Conference schools represented such as Mt. Zion, Charleston, Mattoon, and Mahomet-Seymour. Decatur MacArthur and Decatur Eisenhower come in from the Central State Eight. Then you have the two southernmost schools, Centralia and Mt. Vernon.
That will mean quite a bit of travel for those two institutions from the Southern Seven Conference during the football season. However, being that there a fewer large schools in the southern part of the state as opposed to further north, these kind of arrangements will have to be made in a division type set-up.
While the new divisions and the very first memo on what they might look like are discussed and debated, at least the IHSA has put something out there to use as a starting point. We are sure this is not the ending point come 2021.
One other thing we do know is that the divisional format ONLY impacts the sport of football. All other conference arrangements, such as the newly minted Lincoln Prairie Conference, will continue with all other sports and activities as they are currently set up.
The conferences will continue to exist and are under control of each individual institution in terms of affiliation. The IHSA will still set the enrollment standards and multiplier formulas for private schools for post-season play in each class, in each sport/activity. This is done every two years.
Let the discussion begin!