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It’s a crisp October Saturday in 2021. It’s Homecoming at Sesser-Valier, but with a strange twist. The Red Devils’ game on this sunny, 62-degree afternoon isn’t at Carroll Kelly Field, but about 90 miles northwest in Effingham.

Their district opponent, which is more than three hours away from S-V, didn’t want to make the long trip down. The IHSA decided the teams should meet at a neutral site about halfway between the schools, so Effingham is the site du jour.

Illinois High School Association votes to end football conferences

Among all the logistical questions — who pays the refs, who supplies the ticket-takers, who mans the concession stands, etc. — comes this one: Where do we hold the Homecoming parade? Does it start in front of the Maid Rite or, Heavens to Murgatroyd, do we transport the floats up to the Fayette Avenue exit off I-57 in Effingham and start it there?

OK, OK, this sounds a bit extreme. But the IHSA’s vote to pass Proposal 23, which ends conferences for football in favor of districts constructed on a geographic model that won’t become clear until sometime before the 2021 season, has for some left more questions than it’s answered.

After talking to some coaches before and after the measure passed, I can report there are mixed feelings about it. Some feel like this is a good thing because it will result in more equitable districts in terms of enrollment, while others still think it doesn’t answer all the problems concerning travel and scheduling.

My take on it is that for most of Southern Illinois, it probably does more good than harm. While some think the conference setup currently in place doesn’t need fixing, others believe it to be antiquated and not fair for some schools.

Think Sparta for instance, which has the fewest students of any school in SIRR Mississippi. Even in years where the Bulldogs crack through their normal two-win barrier and get to four or five, the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

Their numbers are such that they have a hard time finding enough players to build a reasonable second team. And as their football coach, Ron Dupree, reminded me in August before his first Sparta team went 2-7, you win with enrollment in this sport.

The school for which it might do the most damage in this area is the one we referenced to start this column. As a Class 1A program, Sesser-Valier presently plays in the Black Diamond Conference. Most of those schools are 2A or 3A size.

The only other 1A program in the BDC is Edwards County, which at 289 students is close to the cutoff between 1A and 2A. It’s not hard to see a scenario under which the Red Devils will wind up in a district that will require a whole lot of travel.

Some coaches are still attached to the conference setup and don’t like the idea of giving up games that have become good rivalries for one reason or another. My one problem with the measure is that it could lead to the possibility of losing teams making the playoffs.

With non-district games having no bearing on the playoff picture as of 2021, the top four teams from each district will make the postseason, regardless of overall record. You could conceivably see a team with a 4-5 record advance to Week 10, as long as all four wins occurred in district play and they placed fourth.

Bottom line: Change is inevitable. It might not be the change everyone wanted, but it’s coming in 2021. Let’s just hope some poor school’s Homecoming parade to a neutral site doesn’t get bogged down on the interstate between Marion and Effingham.

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Bucky Dent covers prep sports for The Southern. Contact him at bucky.dent@thesouthern.com.

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