The overwhelming majority of high school football coaches in Illinois don't support a proposal to expand the state playoff, to allow more or all teams to participate. Instead, they support a proposal calling for 10 scrimmages in a five-day period in the summer. And the Illinois High School Association is supportive, too.
So you can understand why coaches and IHSA officials were surprised when the IHSA's Legislative Commission recently rejected the proposal and failed to recommend it for a vote by the IHSA membership. Even the IHSA's football advisory committee didn't support it. Look for the coaches to do a better and more persuasive job of lobbying their principals to support the proposal next year.
"The proposal wasn't shot down significantly. It got some support, like 10 for and 20 against," said Craig Anderson, an assistant executive secretary who monitors football for the IHSA. "It is what a lot of coaches have wanted for a long time."
"Football is the only sport that can't scrimmage in the summer," said Argo coach Jim Innis. "If linemen can't do anything, it is a great disadvantage."
Downers Grove South coach John Belskis points out that Illinois football players are at a disadvantage by not having spring practice. "They can't get exposure to college scholarships. In the South, recruiting is done during the spring. Any time you can practice, it is good for the kids and the game," he said.
As it is, Illinois football players can only participate in 7-on-7 competition during the summer. They can't organize against other schools except for 7-on-7. What the coaches propose is controlled scrimmages against rival schools, no live tackling or blocking below the waist, the opportunity to run pass-rush plays and offensive drills.
"We don't get to do drill work like other sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer," said coach Bob Pieper of Glenbrook North. "We are so far behind other states with no spring football or jamborees, just 7-on-7 until the first game. This isn't just about getting kids more exposure and helping them to get college scholarships. It is about making them better and improving the game."
As a former football coach, Jim Woodward of Anna-Jonesboro, president of the IHSA's board of directors, insists it isn't fair that other sports get to work in the summer but not football. He feels the proposal would be a big boost to smaller schools in Illinois.
"Some Downstate schools only have 22 kids on their rosters, not like big schools in the Chicago area. It gives coaches an opportunity to evaluate their teams," Woodward said. "I think the reason it didn't pass is because there was a concern among administrators that don't understand the concept of what we were trying to do. Football coaches must sell their idea to the administrators.
"We aren't looking for game scrimmages in the summer. We don't want the quarterback or running back hit. We're talking about pass-rushing drills and reading the option at full speed. It is one thing to practice against your teammates and quite another to work against other schools. Now they can't line up 11-on-11, only 7-on-7."
Coach Greg King of Sterling, president of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association, said 7-on-7 is good for skilled players. And 25 contact days in the summer for physical conditioning has helped, too.
"But what about the linemen? We're not talking about tackling or live scrimmages, or 10 more games in the summer, just pads and helmets. We want speciality camps, the opportunity to work on the option and wing-T and double wing-T and learn from other coaches, being able to improve techniques," King said.
"It is a valid point to allow football to do what other sports do in the summer," Anderson said. "This proposal doesn't allow for live scrimmage. But it would allow them to simulate 11-on-11 game conditions. It is good for schools to be able to simulate live plays, the full aspect of offense and defense with limitations."
Belskis reminded that when football players are only allowed to participate in nine games in a season, it isn't enough experience for them, compared to the number of games that basketball and baseball players compete in during the spring, summer and fall.
"It wasn't a setback (because the proposal wasn't put up for a vote) but we aren't going forward. We could have made the sport better by doing it. It's good for the game," Belskis said. "If you don't practice against a double wing in the summer, you will have a hard time working against it in one week during the season. Seven-on-seven isn't the same. No quarterback throws without someone rushing him. In five days, you could scrimmage up to 10 opponents, maybe two a day.
"By working against other schools, you are doing things you can't simulate against your own team. There is a great advantage of extra practices. The opportunity to play football for an extra time helps your program. Remember, the recruiting for our girls in volleyball is done during the club season, not the high school season. In football in the South, it is the same way. This proposal would be good for the game."