||More Sports||Sign up||School Finder|
Dunbar's Jayton Dorsey puts the field behind him against Vernon Hills. | Dave Shields~For Suntimes Media.
One of the most anticipated days of the prep football season, behind only opening day and the state finals, is less than a month away.
It's Saturday, Oct. 20, when the Illinois High School Association unveils the 256-team field and pairings for the state playoffs. Unlike the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee, which seems to be practicing an art more than a science, the IHSA has a specific set of criteria for picking the football field. And it's right there for the public to see at ihsa.org.
Basically, all teams with six wins in a nine-game regular season make the playoffs and some five-win teams also qualify. The first tiebreaker is playoff points, another name for opponents' wins. There are other tiebreakers and criteria for setting up the brackets, but you get the idea.
Still, using that formula to predict the field and pairings is about as easy as trying to assemble the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle blindfolded. There are seemingly unlimited variables to sort through, but a few people have tackled that challenge the same way mountain climbers keep going up Everest.
It's a difficult enough task in a normal year. This fall, with Chicago going through the first teachers strike in 25 years, it looks even more daunting. But some people keep trying to figure it out anyway, among them Steve Soucie.
Soucie, who writes for the Daily Journal in Kankakee, has built a reputation of being able to negotiate the maze of IHSA rules and accurately predict what to expect when the IHSA releases its pairings. What he has to say about this year's selection process is not good news for Public League teams, especially those on the bubble.
This is based on what CPS officials said on Thursday about the status of games called off because of the strike. A CPS spokesman said in an email that Week 4 Illini section games will be made up in Week 9 – bumping back the start of the Public League playoffs. Chicago section teams will play their regularly scheduled games in Week 9, meaning their Week 4 games will not be made up. Only Illini and Chicago section teams are eligible for the IHSA playoffs; teams in the Inter-City sections are not.
Seventeen Public League teams made the IHSA playoff field in 2011, but Soucie sees that number decreasing.
"If you look at last year's Public League qualifiers, you have to take the teams that won six games and five games and eliminate them," Soucie said. "A six-win team becomes a five-win team [in relation to the cutoff for qualifying]. All five-win teams coming out of the Public League, unless something really weird happens, won't have enough [playoff] points.
"Historically, the Public League teams are really low on points anyway."
And the bar has been getting higher and higher for five-win teams to make the playoffs. Last year, the cutoff for inclusion was 40 points, the highest since the playoff field was expanded to 256 teams in 2001. The number of five-win teams missing the playoffs (25) was also a record.
The Public League teams that may get hurt the most may be the ones that played out of conference early against tougher private or suburban opponents. Simeon, which looks like the class of the Public League, wanted some bigger challenges, which is why the Wolverines went to Loyola in Week 1 (a 20-0 loss) and played Peoria Central in East St. Louis in Week 2 (a 34-0 win). Curie, Dunbar and Lane also opened the season by playing – and losing to – two non-Public League teams. Not getting that ninth game in against city competition could prove costly to their postseason hopes.
The playoff picture for city teams could have been even bleaker, according to Soucie, if the strike had cost a second week's worth of games. "My snap judgment is it would have been disastrous if they would have not played games this week," he said. "We could have been looking at two, three CPL [playoff] teams total."
So maybe that's the take-away here – as bad as things may seem, they could be worse.