Districts are gone......for now.
I honestly thought my first emotion if that were the case was going to be relief.
There was some of that, but I was surprised to discover that after MUCH study of this over the past year-plus is I've come around to the conclusion is that there isn't likely to ever be something that makes everyone even close to happy.
If you haven't already figured this out, I'm a relatively strong advocate for the current system. It has flaws, ranging from large to small, but when I realized on playoff pairings night this October that it could be the second-to-last time we'd go through that process I wasn't particularly pleased.
I don't hate the concept of District football. I've studied other states that use the basic maxims of what Illinois was considering adopting. Some of them I liked fine, others I hated.
I've come to the conclusion that there's no cure-all to this.
My issue with the district proposal that was at hand was that it was almost shockingly vague to have passed in the first place. As we got more information, the concern became a wider swath on varying topics of implementation.
No one knew how teams would be districted. If multiplier waivers would stay, be dropped or modified? Does the success formula stay or go? Would there be any dispensation for geographical regions where win totals and program success levels were wildly disparate? Would the two non-district games that had no bearing on the playoffs turn into glorified scrimmages?
Those questions weren't answered at any time. A mock-up provided by the Illinois High School Association in May provided a window into what it might look like, and it was pretty messy. I tried to apply that mock to see what the system might look like considering 2019 results in the district formula and if you want to tell me that it looked better than what we are doing now, I think you need your prescription updated.
I realize that there are some schools that have terrible trouble scheduling football games and the out-of-state games required by some teams to fill schedules is a rather disturbing in nature. But while the district formula does fix some of those problems, it shifts those same scheduling programs to other schools. How is playing a couple of teams that are two or three hours away better than playing a school 15-minutes down the road with a slightly different enrollment?
I've also heard a lot of hand-wringing about conference jumping in recent seasons. I'm not unaware of it, but those same people don't point out the benefits of conferences as well. Many, many leagues in the state over time have found a sweet spot with teams across classifications forming natural rivalries that are good for everyone involved. While the conference system isn't all-inclusive of all teams, the district formula suggested certainly doesn't work in the best interest of all teams either.
That system has and will likely continue to leave some teams out of the mix. But the district system is going to do that too. There are going to be incredibly weak divisions in the district system and incredibly strong ones as well.
We're also in an era where the football landscape is wildly changing. It appears that the 8-man membership is on the verge of continuing its increase in membership. To have a rigid system at this time doesn't make any sense.
The district system was set to be based on a two-year period of membership, can you tell me how many programs will even be playing 11-man football at that point?
Maybe that shift leads to 4-5 at-large teams getting into the playoffs in the near future (we were shockingly close this year) and is that necessarily as bad as having districts that might have to be re-stacked because of defecting programs to 8-man football or even worse folding because the rigors of competing are too great?
In theory, preclassifying teams based on enrollment is a good thought. But then limiting counting schedules to only the 67 or 68 schools across the entire state that fall in the same classification seems silly. The projected enrollment split for 2A/3A is from 293 to 398 student schools. That's not much of a gap. And the 398 school can't play the 406 school and have it count even though they are 10 minutes apart and have played one another for 50 years? Talk about not having any flexibility...
Currently we have less than the needed 512 playoff eligible teams needed to make this district system work. In order to get to 512 we need to add teams from the Chicago Public League that aren't currently eligible for the playoff field. Odds are those teams would be weeded out before we got to the postseason, but it would lead to a number of lopsided regular season outcomes. (There's a reason those schools aren't playoff eligible).
I think the current system could be improved in many ways. For example, I'd love to see teams seeded on the playoff points accrued by teams that a team defeated rather than just by who they played. But that's an argument for another day and another time.
And I'm sure this is an argument we'll have another day and time too.