Since Chauncey Carrick arrived at Sycamore in 1993, the school has been a part of seven different conference alignments.
The Spartans were in the Little Seven in Carrick’s first year at Sycamore. Then there were three different alignments of the Suburban Prairie, followed by a stint in the Western Sun before the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference was created.
This year, the NI Big 12 has a new alignment, with both Dixon and Streator leaving the league, Streator for the Interstate Eight and Dixon for the Big Northern.
Conference stability isn’t just an issue in DeKalb County. Over the past five years, 20 conferences have changed alignment due to departures or additions, and four new conferences have been formed.
While the change affects all sports, the basis for it is always football.
Sycamore hopes to have a solution to all the madness. On Tuesday, the IHSA announced 16 bylaw amendment proposals, including Sycamore’s football proposal, which would group football teams into two-year predetermined districts. The rationale for the proposal is conference stability, eliminate the need for teams having to play out-of-state opponents – 38 schools played teams from outside of Illinois this year – ease the scheduling process and have teams play schools their size.
Under the proposal, Class 3A-8A will consist of eight eight-team regions. Class 2A would have eight 10-team regions, and 1A would consist of six 10-team regions and two nine-team regions.
The top four teams in each region qualify for the playoffs.
Sycamore put the proposal together last year, but Carrick, who took over as Sycamore athletic director for the 2010-11 school year, said they didn’t put it on the table because it really wasn’t ready to go and there were already football proposals out there. Back in September, Carrick said principals in the NI Big 12 talked to him about the proposal, and he sent it out to other schools.
Carrick got input from schools in the suburbs, as well as schools downstate and took the best ideas for the entire state.
“The feedback has been extremely positive. I think people in general are frustrated with all the shuffling,” Carrick said. “The shuffling’s starting to hit the suburban schools now too, so they’re starting to feel everybody else’s pain. I’ve had very positive feedback. There’s been some negatives, yes, but for the most part it’s been positive.”
One negative comes for three schools in the Metro East area of St. Louis – O’Fallon, Belleville East and Edwardsville. They’re grouped in an 8A region with Joliet Central, Joliet West, Lockport, Minooka and Plainfield South.
Sycamore’s proposed region would consist of Belvidere, Burlington Central, Freeport, Hampshire and three Woodstock schools – Woodstock, Woodstock North and Woodstock Marian, a private school that is annually one of the premier programs in 5A.
“We went through the whole process, dividing the schools, putting them in classes and making schedules. It would be real easy for me to draw a line that didn’t include some really good football schools,” Carrick said. “We didn’t do that. We did what we thought region football would look like.”
One problem with the current system is teams scheduling down in class, trying to secure that magical fifth win. For a program like Sycamore, finding nonconference opponents can be sort of an adventure.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have some success lately. It’s really tough to have teams your size play you,” Sycamore football coach Joe Ryan said. “Lincoln-Way West (who Sycamore played Week 1) was right on the border, but they ended up being 6A this year. Crete-Monee (the Spartans’ Week 2 opponent) was 6A. Then you’re travelling all the way to the Joliet area. Not only do you have to play up a class, you have to travel.”
DeKalb athletic director Tom Kim spent time as an administrator at Grayslake Central prior to coming to DeKalb County. Back in 2010, Kim’s school played Mt. Vernon, which is five hours from Grayslake.
“I have lived through that. It’s tough, it’s not easy to schedule,” Kim said. “I only think about some of those folks like Maine South, some of the bigger teams in that area more known for being a perennial powerhouse. Nobody wants to play them.”
Each eight-team region will play two nonregion games. The IHSA will set all nonregion games, though each school can list six teams they would like to play. If two teams, such as DeKalb and Sycamore, list each other as a first choice, they will be guaranteed to play each other. All other games would be based on geography and the priority list.
Nonregion games will not count towards the region standings, so in a way, they’ll be exhibition games.
“I think that’s part of the intent, is to provide flexibility of who you want to schedule, but at the same time removing concerns about alignment and these weird open weeks,” Kim said.
The IHSA Legislative Commission will review the proposal at its meeting Monday. After town meetings at various sites from Nov. 6-19, the commission will meet Nov. 24 to decide whether to submit it to a vote of the general membership.
The final vote by IHSA member schools will take place between Dec. 1 and Dec. 30.
“As far as it passing, it’s like anything else,” Carrick said. “It’s change. It’s different, it’s like a whole new way of thinking. Sometimes it goes over well, sometimes it doesn’t.”