The pleas to allow football this school year in Illinois have been a consistent one over the course of the past month.
And with the state still not allowing any contact, it seems unlikely that things will go off as planned with teams beginning normal practices on August 10.
So what do we do if we have to condense the season, start later than previously planned or attempt to flip the football season to a slot in the spring/summer?
One might argue that it is too big a task, too many obstacles to clear out of the way.
I scoff at this notion.
Before we get into specifics, this exercise comes with one major caveat: we obviously have to figure out the health and safety aspect before we can put together a schedule. This exercise assumes, whether we play football in the fall or spring, that we have come up with a viable solution for the first major hurdle. Now let's dig in.
I tasked myself to create a flexible plan that could work under any circumstance as long as a minimum of 10 weeks are afforded. Is that what we are used to? No, but there's got to be a plan put in place that provides for a wide range of possible scenarios.
As such, I've put together a plan that allows for the option of a full playoff bracket in each of the classifications in 12 weeks. If that's too long, the modified version would complete the season in 10 weeks with eight playoff qualifiers in each class. There's also a mid-range version that would allow for 16 teams in each classification.
This plan revolves around a seven-game regular season. Any suggestion of a season that starts with an even number of games is quite problematic and will lead to a number of teams subjected to either byes or not having an opportunity to play one of the teams in their own grouping or conferences.
I'm ordinarily a conference supporter, but for this purpose, you can't use them. They come in all different sizes and forms and in some cases the teams involved come from a variety of classifications.
With a shortened regular season and a possible reduction in playoff qualifiers, the fairest way to break the field into groups is by using what is basically a district system. And if the schedule is forced to remove the possibility of playing out-of-state opponents to fill the schedule (there are currently 60 games slated for play against out-of-state squads), this is the best way to ensure everybody gets very near the same opportunity to play.
The 500 playoff-eligible schools have been divided into equal groups of either 62 or 63 schools by enrollment number. Four of the classifications (Class 1A, 3A, 5A, 7A) have 62 teams and the remaining classifications have 63 teams. I used the highly scientific method of flipping a North Dakota state quarter I found on the floor to decide evens or odds for the extra school.
The mapping of those classifications are included with this story, forming eight-team groupings by geography. Since there are not 512 playoff-eligible schools, 12 districts were afforded just seven teams, and will require that each squad have a bye week during the regular season.
The breaking down of geographic brackets was not an easy one, but I did use an unlabeled map to not provide myself any preconceived biases of teams I may have preferred not occupying the same district with one another. In some cases, rivals were placed in different districts, because of the rigidity of only allowing for eight schools, and only eight schools, in a grouping. Other rivalry games were eliminated because the two schools were not in the same classification.
From there, I took those groups and place them in a schedule from 1 through 8. They were placed in those slots by alphabetical order by school name. Teams on the odd number line received three home games, while teams on the even number line received four home games. (Back to the North Dakota quarter to decide this).
The postseason can choose between one of three variances.
The first would involve just one qualifier (the winner) from each of the eight groupings and require a 10-week season in total. Teams would be placed on the bracket in 1 through 8 position based on the way they are stacked in the grouping. Since there won't be any system of playoff points to determined seeds (every team would play a schedule with the same number of opponents wins), the trusty coin flip could decide first-round location. For second-round games, if one team hosted a first-round game and the other did not, the non-hosting first-round team would host the game. If neither team hosted or both did, back to the coin flip.
The second option (11 weeks) would involve two qualifiers – the winner and the runner-up from each grouping. Winners of groupings would host the runner-up of another grouping in the opening round. Hosts in the quarterfinals and semifinals would be decided by the process listed above.
The third option (12 weeks) would be similar to what is played now, with group winners and runners-up hosting the opening-round games. After that, if two schools had hosted the same number of games, a higher group rank would break the tie for the game. If group rank is the same, back to the coin flip.
This process certainly has some scenarios for some to quibble with and will probably produce some matchups along the way that people don't want for various reasons, but this is a concrete way to get everyone a fair chance of getting an opportunity to play a somewhat equal schedule. It also provides some flexibility for adjustment if programs decide for whatever reason not to move forward as a football program.