Moline vs Rock Island football

The Moline-Rock Island rivalry could be in jeopardy when Illinois prep football moves to district play in 2021.

Think about this for a minute. There is a real chance that the fall of 2021 could wind up seeing the end of the longest prep football rivalry in Illinois.

That is the downside of Tuesday's vote among the Illinois High School Association's schools to institute districts for football starting in the 2021-22 school year.

The much-discussed IHSA vote going from conference to district football passed by 17 votes, with 69 schools choosing to not vote over the last week.

The vote means scheduling will be done by the IHSA as football-playing schools will be moved into eight- or nine-team districts in all eight classes starting in the fall of 2021.

Without a confirmed vote from United Township or Galesburg, only Alleman voted for the proposal among Western Big Six schools. And even there, Alleman coach Todd Depoorter isn't overly thrilled about the decision.

"I'm disappointed," Rock Island athletic director Michelle Lillis said. "Such a close vote yet 69 schools chose not to vote."

Added Depoorter, "All I have ever known is the Western Big Six and the Metro Conference. I will miss those rivalries and relationships. We had a rivalry with Geneseo a while back and have one going now with Sterling. I want what is best for our kids and this districting is that, but I'm not jumping up and down because Alleman has been a proud part of the Big Six and we have been competitive."

The IHSA knew the decision, either way, was going to come with some controversy.

“It is a historic change,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “The narrow gap in the voting indicates that there are pros and cons that impact our diverse football-playing membership in a multitude of ways. We hope that it will effectively address conference realignment and scheduling concerns, while helping create long-term sustainability and growth for high school football in the state."

UT athletic director Mark Pustelnik sits on the fence.

"I have mixed emotions," he said. "From the conference standpoint, we had solidified things by adding Geneseo and Sterling and scheduling was no longer an issue. It takes away some of our rivalries in the area. On the other side, it does even the playing field, and a school such as Alleman gets to play schools its own size."

It is expected that Alleman will be in Class 3A with no other Big Six teams. Rock Island, United Township and Galesburg would be in a Class 6A district. Moline and Quincy would be in a Class 7A district. And Big Six newcomers Sterling and Geneseo would be in a Class 5A district.

Rock Island coach Ben Hammer said he is neutral on the final decision, knowing the projection has the Rocks playing against teams in the Peoria area where he grew up.

"Michelle voted for us and I would have voted 'no' just as she did," Hammer said. "You want to have a school where the athletic department works as one. Now, we are playing different schools than the basketball, baseball, softball and the rest of the teams."

Moline is among those most unhappy, appearing to be set in a nine-team district which will mean one team will have an off-night every week and the non-district game will be a floating date.

"This is the worst-case scenario," Moline coach Mike Morrissey said. "I felt sick to my stomach when I heard the results. If we were in 6A with Rocky, UT and Galesburg, I'd be OK, but not this. You look at 7A schools and start in the St. Louis area and the line goes straight through us, Pekin, Bradley-Bourbonnais, Normal West and Quincy."

Moline activities director Dick Knar voiced his displeasure on Twitter.

"Very disappointing!," he said. "All our rivalries are gone. All possible crossover Iowa games gone. Now travel will be extremely long. Closest game for us will be 2 hours away.

"Our non-district might only be one available game. We also lose the cross-river games with PV, Bettendorf. Travel will be bad. Our conference has been together for 50 years and in one vote it ends for football. Sad day."

Geneseo coach Larry Johnsen is also a staunch opponent of the decision. His biggest beef is that the IHSA has yet to set any parameters or give the schools any ideas on the plan.

"I don't know what to say," Johnsen said. "I understand there is a problem, but I just don't think districts are the plan. I have talked to people who are fully behind it but they still can't answer any of my questions as to the what and how it will happen.

"And to say travel is not going to be a problem, those people just don't know. I don't know what Moline is going to do. If Rocky and UT go to the Peoria area, their fans are not going to want to travel there every other week. It is just mind-boggling to me that my community has questions for me and all I can tell them is I have asked the IHSA and I still don't know."

There will be room to play one or two non-district games, allowing for some of the longtime rivalries to continue. However, there will be plenty of hurdles there.

For Depoorter, he will leave it to his school's administration.

"We just started the rivalry with Assumption, then we have Rocky, Moline and UT," he said. "How do I pick two teams from there? Then, we have Sterling and Geneseo."

Morrissey does not want to ever see the Moline-Rock Island rivalry end but he wonders how that would work. He also worries a lot about the money factor.

"The eight-team districts will have the first two weeks open, but if we are in a nine-team district that won't work," he said. "We would have one non-district game and who knows what date it would be. There are just too many unknowns right now and it is in the hands of someone else.

"Football is a big money sport when you talk about tickets and concessions. You're talking about losing 6,000 people for a non-conference game against Bettendorf or PV versus a game with 60 people there in Collinsville. And with so many long trips, we are taking money out of the athletic budget which means money for every other sport is lost."

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