IHSA membership schools reversed a vote that would have designated that a district football system be put into play for the 2021 season on Tuesday.
Friday Night Drive reporters are getting reaction from area coaches about the news. Their responses are posted below. We'll update as we get more reaction.
"Batavia is and was okay with whatever the majority decided," coach Dennis Piron texted. "[It’s] likely playoff expansion will be coming back soon."
St. Charles North:
"St. Charles North is happy with the outcome," coach Robert Pomazak texted. "The opportunity to play in the best public school [DuKane] conference in the state of Illinois is a privilege. We are excited to build the rivalries, and create lasting football memories for our kids."
"It's a tough decision to completely revamp our game," coach Brian Melvin texted. "To be honest, I am indifferent about the decision. I am glad that we did not change the playoffs with this decision, though. It’s what makes Friday nights special in the Fall."
"You have to earn your playoff spot," Melvin continued. "I do feel, however, that there is a more pressing concern that has been voiced over and over again and that is the schools with and without boundaries."
"I know we're not the only ones that voted for it," athletic director Phil Jerbi said. "We would have done what everybody else wanted to do. We as a district are pleased it was repealed."
Jerbi said there were issues beyond just travel. He said the lower levels were up in the air – were schools committed by the IHSA to fall the district or could they schedule their own games against other teams. There was also the fact the model look strictly at enrollment size.
"You have some schools that are perennial powers and are smaller and some bigger schools struggle every year," Jerbi said. "You would never be able to build up if you're some schools if this passed. There was a lot of uncertainty. I think if the district model answered some of those questions the vote might have come out differently."
Jerbi said he wasn't sure if the conference system will still be around in five or 10 years, saying the amount of uncertainty around the future of the game at the high school level clouds those sort of guesses.
"It's hard to look that far down the road anymore," Jerbi said. "I know we're always going to be looking for better ways to do things. Football is so unique and who knows if it's even around at the high school level in 10 years. With participation numbers dwindling not only in the state but nationwide it's hard to look into a crystal ball and see what happens down the road. But at least now we know what's happening in a year or two."
"I was not surprised," athletic director Chauncey Carrick said. "It's a pretty hot button topic. ... The people who were against it got out the vote and it was repealed. It's time to move forward."
"I'm disappointed we're not going to fix the system and go back to what we had," Carrick said. "I think – what's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? But I don't know if districts is the answer or not. I don't know if expanding the playoffs to 48 is the answer. But I do know there are schools struggling around the state in the current system and we continue to do nothing. We're allowing schools to continue to struggle to one, find games, and two, keep conferences together."
"I'm not going to lie – Sycamore is all for districts," Carrick said. "But I also know over the past couple years we've come around to think that the expansion of the playoffs does a lot to keep conferences together. There were teams in our league that ended up 4-5 that were good enough to win playoff games, especially in an expanded field. I think that's the way to go. If you have some 3-6 teams and 4-5 teams get it, that might be the way to make conferences stable and still play those local rivalries."
LA SALLE COUNTY / WOODFORD COUNTY
"I know our administration was against it from start and nothing changed in that regard," said Ottawa head coach Chad Gross, with OHS athletic director Mike Cooper also confirming the school voted against.
"I’m happy the way the vote ended up, mainly because I feel our conference is a pretty strong one already and within it is some very good competition — we had four teams (half the league’s teams) make the playoffs," said Gross. "In the district format almost all of our games would have been farther trips than we already have.
"I feel the I-8 is a very challenging conference and a very good fit for us and within it we have a number of rivals, namely La Sale-Peru, that a district format may have taken away."
"Our principal Bill Lapp and El-Paso Gridley principal Brian Quam were the architects behind Proposal 15, so we were definitely against the district format for sure," said Fieldcrest head coach Derek Schneeman. "We’re fortunate they were able to get this on the ballot and our happy it was overturned. Mainly it’s because our conference (Heart of Illinois) is so stable right now and we already play schools with similar enrollments. It’s good competition and our league is a very good one in my opinion all the way around, so we don’t want to change."
The majority of the local coaches contacted by the BCR Tuesday were happy with the traditional setup of conference play, especially in the Three Rivers, and were pleased to see the districts overturned.
“I like it the way it is. We have a very good conference. And we have some good rivalries that might not have if we went to districts,” Hall coach Randy Tieman said.
“I love the TRAC conference and would hate to see it dissolve,” said Ryan Pearson, who coached Princeton to the 3A semifinals this year. “Each and every team is battle tested when they get to the playoffs coming out of our league. Not a lot of conferences can say that. I also believe that our school should have ultimate control over who we schedule to play, so I'm glad that it will stay that way.”
While he said he’s not opposed to change, Bureau Valley coach Mat Pistole had concerns with the proposed district format calling for two games that would not count toward district/playoffs standings.
“I think (districts) opens up a lot of potential problems. You would have to schedule (two) games, which is certainly a pain. Secondly, why would you play your best kids in these meaningless games and risk injury for the games that matter?” he said.
“The current format makes it so every game matters for the playoff structure and you have to have a winning record to get in. This is how it should be, in my opinion.”
The reversal was not well received in all area camps, however. St. Bede coach Jim Eustice was not in favor.
“It's a shame it got rescinded. Should have been required to do it for at least two years,” he said.
St. Bede principal Michelle Mershon had voted against districts when it was on the table a year ago.
Sterling already went through a season of change this past fall with a move to the Western Big 6. Now there, Warriors coach Jon Schlemmer likes where the team is.
“For us, once we were able to get into the Big 6, we were happy with where we’re at,” Schlemmer said. “We like our conference. We think its a good fit for our community, for our program, for our kids.”
“Football is unique with the setup of having to qualify for the postseason,” Schlemmer said. “It’s a little more demanding at times, but once you get there, anyone can win it. I’m excited to keep going with the current format.”