While Chicago was getting ready for what would turn out to be the Blackhawks' third Stanley Cup win in the last six seasons, IHSA football fans celebrated an important change to the football playoffs beginning this fall, according to Monday's IHSA press release:
"Class 1A-6A will be seeded in two geographic brackets 1-16, eliminating the previous mileage component within the Policy that would change the bracket to quadrants if certain travel mileage distances were exceeded. Class 7A & 8A will now be seeded 1-32."
My take on this latest change? It just makes sense.
Back in 2002, when the whole mileage component was added by the IHSA in response to growing concern regarding travel costs, it made sense at that time.
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But with leaving this rule in place for 12 years, I felt that it began to water down the overall quality and appeal of the IHSA state playoffs, especially in the larger classes. It seemed like we saw the same opening round matchups, grouping all of the same teams. Win the regular season DuPage Valley conference or the (St. Louis area's) Southwestern conference. Your reward would frequently be playing --essentially-- a conference tournament in the state playoffs. You needed to survive a second go-around against a team that already knows you too well. One year of that happening? It's interesting. Twelve years? Not so much.
Simply put, the IHSA football playoffs (in the larger classes in particular) became which two best geographically placed teams could get to the state finals instead of just the best two teams regardless of location playing for a state title. I've argued for years that, in many cases, the best state playoff games happened in the quarterfinal round.
Also lost under the old system was the entire educational aspect of traveling. Coaches, players and fans alike will tell you that nothing beats the experience of traveling to play a team you've never faced. Or getting to play in a different part Illinois that you might not ever see in your lifetime. Ask St. Rita or Lincoln-Way East, or O'Fallon or East St. Louis...all teams who have made multiple trips downstate and upstate during the regular season about the value of making trips outside of its own back yard. To a coach and administrator they will agree that kids benefit from those road trips.
Under this new tweak to the state football playoffs, we still might not see the best two teams get to a state title.
But for the first time in many years, I feel have a playoff system that at least makes more sense.