High school football: IHSA changes could be 'nightmare' for local coaches

Limitations on player participation will begin in 2019

Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg talks with a player during the Trojans' game against Huntley on Sept. 14 at Huntley.
Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg talks with a player during the Trojans' game against Huntley on Sept. 14 at Huntley.

Fox Valley Conference football coaches were thrilled last season with the new scheduling format they had adopted.

The FVC schedule called for a freshman A game before the varsity on Friday nights, then a freshman B game followed by the junior varsity game on Saturdays. Coaches felt the new system allowed more player participation and development in an era when the number of participants in the sport is falling.

“We made it so all our kids were playing on the weekend,” Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. “The kids are happy. The parents are happy to see their sons dressed. Friday nights were great atmospheres.”

The Friday atmospheres may not look much different in the 2019 season, but the rest of the week could change drastically after the IHSA passed a new policy for weekly player limitations. Under the new guidelines, players will not be allowed to play in a game – even for one play – and participate in a game or practice the next day.

The proposal was passed June 11 on the recommendation of the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. The move was made in an effort to decrease the contact players experience with the attention in recent years to concussions and subconcussive hits to the head.

“This is the next logical step in a series of collaborative efforts between the SMAC and football coaches to make the game as safe as possible for high school students in Illinois,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said after the decision.

Although football coaches appreciate another safety measure, they are perplexed as to how they will work within the rules next year. The rules will necessitate significant changes in scheduling games and in practice routines.

“The intentions are good, like a lot of pieces of legislation,” Seaburg said. “But when it’s really in practice, one of the unintended consequences is that there’s going to be less participation from kids. I don’t think this was the objective of the doctors who proposed this.”

Even though there is one coach on the committee (Batavia’s Dennis Piron), several coaches believe there was not enough input from their colleagues as far as what implementing such a plan would entail.

“It’s a nightmare,” Woodstock coach Mike Brasile said.

Currently, the FVC and the Kishwaukee River Conference play their varsity games Fridays, then have lower levels Saturdays. Under next year’s rules, however, the varsity backups could not play Friday and then play a JV game Saturday. Coaches see the JV games as important for developing players who do not get enough snaps in the varsity games but could be contributors in the future.

Simply moving JV games to Mondays presents another problem.

“So now your backup quarterback plays on Friday, and he can play Monday, but he can’t practice Tuesday,” Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak said. “That’s primarily the days when teams have the most contact, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

So, if the JV game is moved to Monday, it leaves teams short on their scout teams for Tuesday’s practices. If the JV games remain on Saturday, the backups cannot enter the varsity game Friday if a player is injured or if the game is a blowout and still play in Saturday’s JV game.

“It gives me a headache thinking about it,” Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. “Is it better to have a JV guy be able to practice every day or to play in a JV game? What are you going to do (on Tuesdays), have a kid stand out there in a T-shirt? I was bragging last year about what our league went to. I thought it was fantastic. I had more kids play (in games) last year than I ever did as a coach.”

The FVC seems to be leaning toward switching the freshman B and JV games to Mondays. Brasile said the KRC coaches have not yet decided what direction they will go.

“We’re going to go with what we have and circle back in January and get a good plan together,” Brasile said. “We have to adjust as coaches and do what’s best for our kids and live by the rules. Maybe Tuesday becomes Monday now. We’re not banging, we’re going through, getting alignments. I don’t know a good answer to it. We’ll talk as a group after the season.”

Seaburg wonders if coaches will consider if JV games are worth it in the long run.

“What I’m fearful about is teams will opt to not play a JV game,” Seaburg said. “They’ll just say, ‘We have too many guys that need to practice on Tuesday. The varsity team is the one that really counts.’ That’s one of the unintended consequences of this rule that you’re going to see.”

Zimolzak wishes the proposal could have been thought through better before it became legislation.

“We’re not trying to figure out ways around it, we’re just trying to figure out ways the kids can play,” Zimolzak said. “It’s a sad state when they’re not thinking of these implications. It’s going to hurt us tremendously.”

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