Sam Knox


Change is coming ... or maybe it isn't.

In December last year, the IHSA announced that the football playing schools will no longer play in conferences, rather they will play in districts, set by the IHSA with teams playing seven games against teams at their same enrollment class.

The vote won by a slim margin and within moments of the decision being announced (included with some mock district plans) there was an uprising against the change.

IHSA assistant executive director Sam Knox knew right away this was not going to be a quick and easy switch for the 2021 football season.

"It was funny, I was at a meeting with several athletic directors the day it was announced,"  Knox said. "An AD sitting nearby looked at me and said 'You know what is going to happen' and it did. Whenever you have something this close and this divisive where so many like it and so many don't, it's not easy."

And that leaves room for a reversal of that potential change to district play.

Knox said school representatives will have until early November to write up a proposal for the IHSA executive committee to look at and decide where to go with the proposal.

The committee then takes the proposals to town-hall meetings with school representatives to decide whether to dump the proposal or put it on a ballot. Every IHSA member school is allowed to vote, whether they have a team in the sport that is involved.

The vote takes place in early December and a decision is announced before the Christmas break.

"We know we will get at least one proposal to change the district plan," Knox said. "We likely will get others and generally if we get say eight proposals we will sit down with those proposals and whittle it down to one common proposal. We will talk to all the coaches or school representatives and make sure they are OK with what we have done.

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"I would guess there might be a change. What that will be I don't know. If it goes back to the way it was, we won't have to make any changes and just move on. The proposal may also say they want to take more time to look at how the districts will work and we could push back that 2021 date."

There are other changes to football that will begin when the season starts in a couple of weeks. Some will be readily noticed, others will not.

One game, one day: The days of playing a sophomore game before the varsity is going by the wayside with a new ruling that allows players to play in only one game in a day. The rule also says one play in a game means the player played in that game.

That means teams who use freshmen or sophomores in both the sophomore and varsity game could not do that. They can also not play on back-to-back days. Thus sophomore games will likely be played on Mondays.

"Most coaches are understanding that we are protecting the kids and keeping them from exposure to contact twice in the same day."

Watch your back: The horse-collar penalty has been changed this year. In past seasons a player had to reach inside the jersey and grab the shoulder pads to drag down a runner. Now, if a player grabs a ball carrier from behind anywhere from the name-plate area and above it is a 15-yard penalty.

Keep an eye on the clock: Instead of the 25-second clock between plays in past years where the referee whistled the ball in play now the 40-second clock will start as soon as the previous play ends (unless there is a score, a change of possession or a penalty).

"We have all seen that some referees take a long time to put the ball in play and others go right away, this makes it the same for every game," Knox said. "It will be a quick look to make sure there are no flags or injuries and the clock starts with no whistle."

The 25-second clock will be invoked after penalties, changes of possession, scores and new quarters.

Who's on the line: In the past, the rule required offensive formations to have seven players on the line of scrimmage. Now, the rule states the minimum is five on the line but no more than four in the backfield. Sounds odd? It allows teams with nine or 10 players on the field  to legally run a play as long as five of them are on the line.

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