Explaining the rise of districts and possible demise of Hinsdale football

We interrupt your regularly scheduled basketball season.

Eyes on Five is back to bring you some breaking prep football news.

In a stunning vote — results released Tuesday by the IHSA — the organization's member schools approved amendment proposal No. 23, which completely overhauls how the football regular season and playoffs will operate starting in 2021.

And there was more stunning news on Monday when the Hinsdale High School District 86 board voted to eliminate football and other sports and activities beginning next school year if a referendum on the April ballot doesn't pass.

Phew ... this special edition of Eyes on Five looks at an awfully busy December for DuPage County prep football.

1. Brave new world:

I'm shocked. And no one better summed up the shock than Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch, who has no interest in seeing districts dissolve his new home in the DuKane Conference.

“My recommendation is to send it back to Florida for a recount,” he said.

Following the district proposal from its humble beginnings, I did not think the state was ready for a change this drastic. Proposal No. 23 eliminates conferences and puts scheduling in the hands of the IHSA, which will form districts based on enrollment and geography.

The top four teams in each of the eight districts per class qualify for the playoffs, meaning the playoffs stay at 32 teams per class and 256 total qualifiers.

I can speculate where the 324 “yes” votes came from to edge the 307 “no” votes, but I don't see how there were many from DuPage County. The DKC just formed and had a remarkable first season, the West Suburban Conference has been stable for 32 years and has no interest in change, and the East Suburban Catholic Conference and Chicago Catholic League just announced a merger.

That's roughly 50 schools that should have voted against the proposal, and a huge bloc to overcome for the five-member DuPage Valley Conference, which surely voted for it.

One person I spoke to on Tuesday — and I spoke to a ton of people about this — suggested that principals may have steered contrary to the wishes of their coaches and voted yes on the proposal. Districts sure do ease a lot of administrative headaches regarding conference shuffling and scheduling issues.

Was it central Illinois that swung the vote? Southern Illinois? Northwest Illinois?

Maybe a combination of all the above.

Sorry to repeat myself but, again, I'm shocked at how the vote turned out.

2. Yay districts!:

Needless to say, the folks in the DVC are thrilled. The only downer is they'll have to wait until 2021 for districts to take effect.

The positives of districts are clear and, honestly, there's a lot I like about them.

It probably ends the conference shuffling that's been spearheaded by football and the desire to find easier playoff paths. This school year alone saw the creation of the DKC and changes to the DVC, Upstate Eight, Metro Suburban and Interstate Eight.

The DVC is a shell of its former self with only Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley remaining. DeKalb becomes the sixth member next school year.

You can point to stable conferences like the West Suburban and the Mid-Suburban League, but let's be honest. Conference changes have gotten ridiculous.

Another issue that's likely resolved by districts is nonconference scheduling. Schools around here are tired of relying on out-of-state competition because schools are scared to schedule them and risk playoff qualification.

Districts change all that. Teams will play a round-robin within their district, and then fill the schedule with a couple “nondistrict” games that won't count toward playoff qualification.

That means you can schedule anyone in “nondistrict” games and no longer fear that it'll cost you a fifth win and a playoff spot. Only district games matter now.

Another appealing part of Proposal No. 23 is a playoff format that's set up so teams in the same district won't face each other until the quarterfinals at the earliest.

3. Boo districts!:

Now the bad news about districts...

Back to the West Suburban Conference, where you've got historic programs like Glenbard West, Downers Grove North, York, Hinsdale Central and others. Because the 14-team league is spread among three classes, we're probably going to see the end of several amazing rivalries.

Sure, there's room for “nondistrict” scheduling but not enough to make up for that much history. It's a shame.

The additional bad news can be summed up in two words: The Unknown.

How will the IHSA form districts with the Class 7A and 8A schools in southern Illinois? Will they be in a district with south suburban schools like Minooka, the Plainfields and Bradley-Bourbonnais?

Have fun with those road trips!

What about near West suburban schools like Oak Park? After decades of epic rivalries in the WSC Silver, will the Huskies land in a district with Chicago Public teams who can't compete with them?

What about mid-sized DuPage County schools like Glenbard South, which just this school year joined the Upstate Eight Conference? In past years the Raiders competed in the 5A and 6A playoffs against a variety of teams like Marian Central, Hillcrest, Tinley Park, Lake Forest ... all over the place.

What will the Raiders' district look like?

And what about that ESCC-CCL mega-conference that arrives next season? Now all those private schools will be lumped into districts with public schools. Trust me when I say no one wants that.

4. Trouble in 86:

To combat budget shortfalls, on Monday the Hinsdale High School District 86 board voted to eliminate football at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South next school year. It also called for eliminating numerous other sports and activities.

It seems almost unthinkable, but it could become reality if the community fails to approve a $130 million referendum that'll appear on the April ballot. The money is needed for infrastructure improvements at both schools.

No more football at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South ... wow.

I've clearly been wrong about votes before (see above), but I can't imagine the referendum not getting the votes it needs in the spring — and I say that regardless of a $166 million referendum that was rejected in November.

Several people chimed in to me about this situation on Tuesday, and the belief is that the threat of eliminating football is a way to rally more support for the referendum. A literal political football, if you will.

If true, it's quite a gamble.

If the referendum fails again, get ready for some tough decisions in District 86.

5. Stat time:

The vote on Proposal No. 23 was beyond interesting.

There were 324 “yes” votes and 307 “no” votes. Sixty-nine schools voted “no opinion” and 118 schools did not vote at all.

That's 700 votes for a football proposal ... a sport with only 560 competing schools in 2018.

That 560 number increases when you add the co-op schools that combine to form some of those 560 competing teams, but it's obvious that a bunch of non-football schools not only voted on the proposal but determined the outcome based on the margin of only 17.

Like I said, interesting.

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IHSA eliminating football conferences starting in 2021

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