The question that everyone involved with high school football in Illinois has wanted answered finally got some resolution on Wednesday.
The Illinois High School Association unveiled its plan for the sports calendar, revealing that football will be attempted to be played in the spring, with the season extending from a tentative period of February 15 until May 1. The first contests cannot be held until March 5 to account for acclimatization.
And while that question was answered, it opened up a whole other level of unanswered questions.
What will the schedule look like?
It's pretty unclear for the time being. The dates listed above allow for just nine weekends of competition from start to finish.
An initial release to schools indicated that the schedule would be seven games in length, with the potential of a regional postseason - at minimum.
With just nine weeks of availability it seems unlikely that any state-wide representative state tournament could be held, especially with a seven-week regular season preceding it. There is discussion of possibly extending the season to accommodate for a state tournament series, but the current week constriction led IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson to admit that "it is going to be very difficult to crown a state champion."
Adding another potential thorn to the rose is the decision to allow schools the right to schedule regionally in lieu of having the state make the assignments. This will absolutely work in some circumstances and that shouldn't be ignored, but there's a whole bunch of problems that have to be unpacked where the schedule isn't so clear.
Conference schedules are a good idea to use as a blueprint in some situations. But what about the conferences that have too many members to accommodate for this schedule or in some cases too few? Do they play the same team multiple times? At what point, does some sort of intervention have to take place to insure everyone gets similar opportunities to fill schedules with opponents somewhat similar to themselves.
For various reasons, 60 schools in Illinois scheduled at least one out of state opponent in what was to be the 2020 football schedule. Those avenues won't be available to those schools in the spring to fill schedules. In addition, filling schedules with shaky relationships and inconvenient travel distances aren't going to make the job easier for schools that don't have enough natural geographic/similar school size partners within distance of one another.
Maybe that's a pessimistic stance, but considering the problems that some schools already have scheduling when there is considerably more flexibility available, it is a problem that is going to require intervention and probably a lot of it.
Will the state lose players to neighboring states that have currently committed to either playing immediately or with a slight delay and how will the changes effect recruiting?
Illinois has already lost a couple of top talents to other states. It is more than possible, if not likely, more will follow.
Recruiting has many potential issues to deal with. The spring season will allow student athletes an opportunity to get more tape to convince potential recruiters of their skills, but many schools may come close to or fill their recruiting needs prior to that with student athletes that might manage to get seasons in for the fall.
Another potential hiccup comes in the form of the possibility that athletes who have already signed their letters of intent might be asked by their future college to opt out of spring season to prevent injury.
What about the postseason?
There's no easy way to decipher exactly what a regional postseason would look like. The status quo doesn't seem remotely viable, nor do any sort of regional qualifying systems without either an extension of the number of weeks allowed for play or a reduction of the number of regular season games.
Based on a seven-game regular season format, that would leave just two weeks for a potential postseason series.
Who qualifies for what would have to be a four-team bracket? Who doesn't? How big are the regions? Are we using the same classifications? What if two schools with the same record and only one spot is available are undefeated but have wildly divergent qualities of schedule?
All complex questions that for the time being don't have any concrete answers.
All that put aside, most coaches seemed relieved more than anything that the opportunity of a season remains in whatever form it takes.
"“First and foremost, I applaud the IHSA and Craig Anderson, for making sure something is a possibility. Something is better than nothing," Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. "It will be different, but the only thing that I didn't’t want was to have to get up in front of the kids and tell them there was nothing."