When the Iowa High School Athletic Association decided to go to district scheduling in football for the largest schools in the state a few years ago, there was a lot of grumbling.
Why was this necessary? Was this really an improved situation? What was wrong with the old way? It felt like sort of a slap in the face.
When the Illinois High School Association did the same thing Tuesday, it was more like a punch in the gut for some schools.
Travel budgets are going to skyrocket. Decades of tradition are going to be lost.
No one can come up with a really good reason why this move was necessary, but it’s going to happen.
Starting in 2021, Illinois’ 560 high school football programs (or however many there are then) will be slotted into 64 districts — eight in each of eight classes — with the top four teams in each district qualifying for the playoffs. Teams will play every team in their district once, which means traditional schedules will be completely rewritten.
All current conference affiliations will be null and void, for football only.
For some schools in some parts of the state this may be a good thing.
For some of the larger high schools in the Illinois Quad-Cities, it’s darn near a disaster.
Put Moline at the top of that list. For 50 years, the Maroons have been part of the Western Big Six, playing Rock Island, Alleman, United Township, Galesburg and Quincy every single season, developing close relationships and cherished rivalries.
All that has been trashed. Almost none of those teams will be on the schedule starting in 2021. Instead, Moline potentially could be playing Belleville West, Alton, Normal West, DeKalb, Geneva, Batavia, Rockford East, Rockton Hononegah, Machesney Park Harlem and Yorkville. The Maroons might not have a district road game within two hours.
The Western Big Six is slated to add two new members next fall. Sterling and Geneseo are joining the league, and one of their primary motivations for doing so was to simplify football scheduling.
But now those eight teams are going to be spread out over four and possibly five classes for football purposes.
Based on current enrollments, Moline will be placed in Class 7A. Quincy could be in 7A, but it was in 6A for playoff purposes last season. Rock Island and United Township will be in 6A with Galesburg right on the fence between 5A and 6A. Sterling will be in 5A with Geneseo at the lower end of that class, possibly dropping into 4A. Alleman made the playoffs last fall in 3A but was one of the smaller schools in that classification. It could end falling all the way to 2A.
Alleman, which voted in favor of the district proposal, actually could benefit from the change. It finally will get to pick on schools its own size and won’t have the increased travel costs of the other schools. There are plenty of 2A/3A opponents nearby that likely would be grouped into a district with the Pioneers.
They will, however, lose those beloved rivalries they have developed with other Big Six schools.
That, in addition to the travel issue, is what is really going to stink about this change.
Moline and Rock Island have the oldest continuous rivalry in the entire state but if they’re going to continue playing one another after 2020, it will need to be a non-district game.
Depending on how large their districts are — they all will include eight or nine members — some schools may have only one non-district opening on their schedule.
If Rock Island plays Moline, which you would think is likely, it may not be able to schedule Alleman, the Catholic school just across town. The Moline-UT rivalry may go away. Other rivalries, such as Sterling-Geneseo and Galesburg-Quincy, may be in jeopardy.
And remember how the Big Six schools were hoping to begin playing some non-conference games against the big schools in the Iowa Quad-Cities?
That ship has sailed. Or sunk. It never will happen now.
Moline head coach Mike Morrissey admitted to being "sick to his stomach" over this move. Maroons athletic director Richard Knar fired an early salvo on Twitter on Tuesday, noting "Our conference has been together for 50 years and in one vote it ends for football. Sad day."
Here is the saddest part of this: This statewide proposal passed by only 17 votes, 324-307, with 69 Illinois high schools not even bothering to cast a ballot.
This proposal has been up for a vote before and was soundly defeated. You have to believe many of those 69 thought it was destined to fail again so they didn’t bother to voice their opinion.
Pretty sad. Really sad.