The Caravan hoist the IHSA Class 7A first-place football trophy Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, after their 37-13 win over Nazareth Academy after the IHSA Class 7A State Football Championship at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
The Caravan hoist the IHSA Class 7A first-place football trophy Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, after their 37-13 win over Nazareth Academy after the IHSA Class 7A State Football Championship at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. — Eric Ginnard - eginnard@shawmedia.com

It usually doesn't take long to find a team in the midst of a postseason run to credit its conference for preparing them well.

But did it? How can we really determine whether or not that's the case?

In attempt to find an answer, I took a closer look at all 74 conferences in IHSA football over the most recent season, the past five years and the past decade to try to get an impression of which leagues are indeed the strongest.

Starting Monday, we will begin our countdown of the top conferences in Illinois over the last decade. But before we get going, I wanted to share how I developed this formula to determine the rankings.

The first, and arguably most controversial, decision I made when putting together the calculations would be to keep teams in their current leagues.

Although teams have moved conferences – though not as often as you may have been led to believe – schools were scored as part of their current conferences. If a team succeeded or struggled in a different conference five years ago, those teams were scored with their current affiliation.

This largely affected conferences that have seen fairly substantial changes in their membership such as the DuPage Valley. But as a whole, many conferences around Illinois have remained fairly consistent.

The ratings formula was based exclusively on victories. Although all victories clearly aren't the same, very limited weights were put on regular season contests. Heavier weights were applied to postseason games for two reasons. First, playoff wins are ultimately what the goal is, as the achievement of playoff wins and state titles should weigh more. Secondly, it is also one of the few times where the best teams from each conference are paired off against one another.

Some conferences started to separate themselves from others with truly dominant performances. Others pulled away from the pack by getting contributions from a number of consistent sources.

All 513 programs were ranked across the state (1-513 rankings will be revealed in a later project) by the same standards used to stacked the conference ratings in three categories: the most recent season (2019), the last five seasons (2015-2019) and the last 10 seasons (2010-2019).

Other things to keep in mind about the ratings:

• If conferences are broken into divisions, they are ranked in their divisional groups. For example, the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference merger formed six different leagues and all were graded individually.

• There was a point reduction placed upon the Chicago Public League conferences who have historically done extremely poorly against schools outside of the CPL. Although some schools (Phillips, Simeon, Raby) have had some success against non-CPL schools including playoff wins, most have struggled mightily. However, if a CPL conference had a school collect a victory in the postseason over a non-CPL school that reduction was removed for that season.

• If a school consolidated with another for football purposes during the last decade, their performances were combined then divided to calculate the program's score. Teams that departed for 8-man football prior to this season were not calculated, teams that are planning to depart for 8-man football in the near future still were.

Closed conferences present a challenge for any study ranking the conferences. Any system based on wins allows closed conferences to have a guaranteed average total for a floor, but also puts a cap on the ceiling.

Closed conference teams don't have an opportunity to make their mark against other leagues until the playoffs. And if they don't fare well in those matchups, they won't rank out very well. And since they don't have the opportunity to rack up wins outside of their own conferences in the regular season, there's only so far these conferences can go. By not playing nonconference games, they are limiting their chances to boost their profiles and hinder other conferences in the process.

Some conferences don't let those constraints bother them as we will discover as we get deeper into the ranking process. Postseason success certainly still pushes these elite teams to the forefront.