New policies instituted by the IHSA last fall will uproot a football tradition that has lasted for decades in most small school football programs; Frosh-Soph and Varsity games on Friday nights. The new rules will necessitate most smaller class schools, including EP, playing only varsity games on Friday nights with frosh-soph games played generally on Mondays.
The new rules states that no player may participate in two games within a 24-hour period. Participation in the game is defined as being on the field for one play. This rule will prohibit freshmen and sophomores from playing in both the F/S and Varsity games on the same night, which is currently common practice. Additionally, players cannot be involved in live contact/thud in practice the day after playing in a game.
The new IHSA policy will also affect freshmen games or more accurately reduce the number. Currently, EP has just one freshman game scheduled this season, which will be played prior to the varsity game on October 4th. Last year the freshmen had six games scheduled.
Last season EP boasted the largest number of players in a football program in the conference. However, numbers have been on the decline and that means in most cases freshman are needed to field a frosh-soph team, which leaves most teams unable to field a freshmen squad.
Abbott said has a plan in place to address the changes, but that,”its a work in progress. The F/S schedule will be very different with most of their games on Mondays. That means, if they play in that game they can’t practice on Tuesday, which is one of the two full contact days for the varsity. “Wednesday will be the only day when all four levels(grades) will have full contact together,” said Abbott. Another concern is fielding a solid scout team for the varsity. He sees some sophomores being stretched for time to help out with varsity, but also finding practice time for their own games. “For us we will have to 8-10 sophomores suit up for varsity as backups, so they need practice time with the varsity as well as their own group.”
One unwanted affect of the changes may be a drop off in attendance at both Varsity and F/S games. With fewer players suiting up on Friday nights and F/S games being played at 5:30 on Mondays, fans may be lacking. The 5:30 start times are to accommodate travel time on a school night.
“This is the biggest change I have been a part of in football since I became involved, said Abbott. “Its a sign of the times with the contact policy and the one play equals one game policy, it makes it tough.” As with any new plan Abbott hopes that policy makers will be open to adjusting some pieces moving forward.
Another change in this season’s schedule is a Saturday game kicking off at 2:00 at Sherrard. Erie Athletic Director Brian Howell, who schedules football, says the Saturday game is a result of a lack of officials. With the number of officials on the decline, the TRAC scheduler of officials asked each team to put a Saturday game on their schedule, which would allow officials to work varsity contests on Friday and Saturday. Panther head coach Jesse Abbott said, “I would rather play on Friday nights, which allows two days off for the kids.” He added that he understands the need for Saturday games during the playoffs, but,”that it’s something outside of our control.”
To equalize travel within the conference the F/S games will be played at the school who travels for the Friday varsity game. Howell also points out that the local football fields will be used for games each week, which may take a toll on the turf.
EP will have five home games with Meet the Panthers and the first two home games played in Erie and the final three home games played in Prophetstown.