IHSA classification rule will move few but have widespread impact

Sarah Nader -
Marian Central's Ephraim Lee runs a play during the third quarter of Friday's game against Montini Catholic in Lombard October 11, 2013.
Sarah Nader - Marian Central's Ephraim Lee runs a play during the third quarter of Friday's game against Montini Catholic in Lombard October 11, 2013.
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Drew Potthoff’s reaction to the new IHSA Success Advancement Component might seem surprising given his position.

Potthoff is athletic director at Marian Central, the only local school likely to be move classes because of the new rule, but he is not spewing any venom toward the IHSA.

“I don’t [object to it]. I think it evens the playing field all over,” Potthoff said. “On the face of it, it looks like it’s something that’s going to hurt the Catholic schools and private schools. It’s really not. The biggest thing you’ll see is in football, where some of these teams will move up one or two classes, which, from some things I see they could probably play there.”

Essentially, the rule means that private or charter school teams – called non-boundaried – will move up a class if they make the final four in their sport. In non-football (bracketed) sports, a team moves up a class if it has reached two final fours in a four-year span.

Marian Central’s volleyball team earned trophies in the Class 3A state tournaments in 2010 and 2011, so the Hurricanes will play in Class 4A next fall. If they do not reach the final four, they will drop back to Class 3A for the 2015-16 school year.

“They keep trying to bump people out,” Marian football coach Ed Brucker said. “It’s the ‘Montini Rule.’ That’s what people are calling it.”

Montini, which knocked Marian out of the Class 5A football playoffs five consecutive seasons, will be moved to Class 6A next year and to Class 7A in 2015. Likewise, Montini’s wrestling team, which has six consecutive state championships (one in AA, five in 2A) will be placed in Class 3A.

In 2005, the IHSA devised a 1.65 multiplier for non-boundaried schools in an effort to level the playing field for other public schools. The public and charter schools had their enrollments multiplied by 1.65.

In 2011, the IHSA let the schools in that group that hadn't had playoff success over a six-year span play without the multiplier.

Now, the IHSA is working at the other end of the spectrum.

Marian and Faith Lutheran, a small private school in Crystal Lake, are the only non-boundaried schools in McHenry County. Faith’s sports programs haven't had extensive playoff success and with its enrollment (84 students) it likely will not be affected by the rule.

Marian volleyball coach Laura Watling read the announcement over and over to make sure she understood what it meant.

“I don’t know how I feel about it,” Watling said. “Our schedule is built for that, we play really competitive 3A and 4A schools, so we’ll be ready. But it seems like going back four years is a bit silly. Who we were four years ago was completely different from where we are now. I could understand if you won the state tournament two years in a row, you deserve to move up.

“I don’t mind the challenge, I just don’t understand why it’s four years and not two years. Nobody in our program is the same.”

Brucker would welcome Montini back in Class 5A, despite seeing the Broncos knock his team out the past five seasons.

“You have to play whoever you have to play,” Brucker said. “If you aren’t good enough, just try to get better. You don’t legislate state championships, that’s the way I feel about it. For years, people have been trying to schedule victories and getting into the playoffs … why not go out and practice a little harder and be a little better?”

Brucker feels any success component should apply to both public and private or non-boundaried schools.

“I don’t understand if somebody wins the state championship, what difference does it make if they’re private of public?” he said.

IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said the committee that presented the rule to the IHSA board of directors included members from large and small schools, as well as public and private.

“For such a diverse group to agree on this proposal was a powerful statement to our board,” Hickman said. “We appreciate their efforts.”

Crystal Lake Central’s wrestling team was knocked out of the Class 2A Dual Team State Tournament in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Many wrestling fans around the state wondered if Montini was the best team, regardless of class. Now they may find out.

“[Harvard] coach [Tim] Haak told me in my first year as coach to make sure that you control the things you can control,” said Central coach Justen Lehr, who wrestled for Haak in high school. “We have never had control over what Montini or the IHSA does, nor will we ever. No matter what, teams like Montini will always raise the level of competition in whatever class they fall. I, for one, can appreciate that.”

Potthoff is eager to see how it all works out after a couple years with the new rule.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” Potthoff said. “It’ll even out the playing field, but somebody’s always going to cry.”

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