There's a cynical theory that every high school seeking to change athletic conferences does so because of a lack of success with its football team.
The theory bounced around when Glenbard South left the DuPage Valley Conference in the mid-1990s, and continues today with West Chicago's recent decision to switch from the DVC to the Upstate Eight Conference and the same potential switch by Glenbard East and West Aurora.
Football is the undisputed king in DuPage County, and it doesn't take bionic ears to hear folks complaining about football dictating key decisions facing entire athletic programs. The criticism is denied by administrators who insist change is based on the overall needs of the school.
Just because it's cynical, though, doesn't make the theory false.
It takes five and sometimes six wins for a football team to qualify for the playoffs, and being stuck in a powerhouse league like the DVC can cost you a playoff berth year after year. Switching conferences could mean the difference in reaching the postseason because of the possibility of a few more wins.
Regardless of where you stand on the theory that football dictates all, what if it became irrelevant? What if we simply removed football from the process and made the sport an entity of its own?
It's an idea that may sound foreign to DuPage County and Illinois, but it's something taking hold in states throughout the country.
It's an idea attempting to be brought to Illinois and the IHSA.
"We're one of the last states to not even think about it," said Eureka High School principal Richard Wherley. "If everyone would look at what's best for the state, this is a good solution."
This column is the fourth in a series of stories examining past, current and future changes to DuPage-area athletic conferences. Area changes are focused on the DVC and UEC, and many believe the focus within those conferences rests on football.
In response to conference changes based primarily on football, Wherley submitted a bylaw proposal to the IHSA Legislative Commission, of which he is a member, detailing a plan for the IHSA to create football divisions for all IHSA schools outside the Chicago Public League, which already divides its schools.
Statewide football divisions would be created based on geography -- a cornerstone of IHSA policy -- and enrollment, which falls in line with the IHSA's system for dividing playoff football teams into eight classes.
Once the football divisions, redrawn every two years, were created by the IHSA, it'd be up to the schools within the divisions to create schedules. A 10-team division would require no nonconference scheduling for a nine-game football season.
Despite some support, the bylaw proposal was not advanced by the Legislative Commission to be put to a vote by the IHSA's general membership. In other words, decisions about football schedules will remain solely with the schools and their respective conferences.
Wherley's proposal is not unique. His research revealed that 35 states use some type of districting system for football. Eight states, including Iowa, have their governing body schedule all football games.
So why didn't the proposal pass in Illinois? Wherley has his thoughts.
First, it's a completely new idea for Illinois that may take time to gain traction. Second, and perhaps more inhibiting, is the established rift between public and private schools when it comes to athletics.
Inevitably Benet, Montini and St. Francis would be placed in an IHSA football division with Glenbard South, Hinsdale South and other mid-sized public schools. Many public schools already are hesitant about exposing their athletes to private school temptations.
Despite the obstacles, in time Wherley is hopeful his proposal -- also sponsored by Maroa-Forsyth principal Scott Adreon -- will be accepted in some form.
Will it solve problems? Sure it will, but not all.
Enrollment at West Chicago and Glenbard East falls in line with Glenbard West, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South. West Aurora might be stuck with Naperville Central, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley.
It's exactly the situation those schools are trying to avoid every fall.
Another solution? Allowing every school into the football playoffs to avoid the issue of worrying about being stuck in a powerhouse conference and never qualifying.
That leads us to Proposal No. 17, which also didn't advance to a vote. Under that proposal football would have an eight-week regular season, with every school qualifying for the playoffs beginning in Week 9.
Like Proposal No. 18, No. 17 is probably too much, too soon.
Eventually, the right combination of plans needs to be found. It could be a hybrid of IHSA scheduling, separate private and public football playoffs and allowing more, and perhaps all, football teams to qualify.
It'll be a lot to take in, but it could become the answer in creating a stable situation for area conferences.
The ideas are out there. It's just a matter of acceptance.
"There's something wrong and we've got to fix it," Wherley said. "At some point we have to make that first step."
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