Maybe we can learn from each other
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
For those who are not familiar with me, I spent my entire life in Illinois prior to my arrival at The Brewton Standard last month. With that in mind, please allow me some more time to develop a southern accent.
In the short time I have been here, I have noticed some significant differences in the way sports work between the two states. Whether those differences are better or worse, I will let the readers decide.
Alabama football is broken into six classes with eight-team regions. The top four teams in each region qualify for the playoffs. Illinois expanded from six to eight classes a couple of years ago. The extra two classes in Illinois are a bit misleading. Alabama has about 385 football members, while Illinois has 500. Both average about 65 members per class.
Like Alabama, 32 teams in each class qualify for the playoffs in Illinois. Conference champions (the equivalent of region champions) receive automatic playoff berths. All teams with six or more wins (in a nine-game schedule) qualify as do most five-win teams. The first tiebreaker for five-win teams is the number of wins by a team's opponents. Unlike Alabama, head-to-head competition has no effect on playoff qualification in Illinois.
Another difference between the playoff systems is Alabama schools know ahead of time what class they will participate in before the season starts. Illinois schools do not know what class they will be in for the playoffs until the final day of the regular season when the playoff field is announced.
At that time the smallest 32 of 256 qualifiers are placed in Class 1A. The next 32 schools in enrollment are placed in Class 2A and so forth.
A significant rule difference in football is Illinois has a mercy rule, while Alabama does not. The Illinois mercy rule comes into effect when a team is ahead by 40 or more points in the second half. At that point the clock will run continuously. The only time the clock stops are for scores, injuries or timeouts. If the margin drops under 40 points, the clock goes back to regular time.
I wonder if Calhoun would have liked a mercy rule in its 84-0 loss to Pike County.
I am sure one area where Alabama fans would like to trade spots with Illinois is the cost of admission. The schools I have been to here have charged $5 or $6. At least in the part of southern Illinois I come from, the admission cost is usually $3 for adults and $2 for students. That cost does go up for playoff games.
Stadium capacities are much larger here. Most Illinois schools similar to the size of T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal have capacities of 1,500 to 2,000. The Alabama schools that I've seen are often double those figures.
Then again, the south is known as the football belt and the upper midwest is known as the basketball belt. Most schools the size of T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal have gym capacities of 2,000 to 2,500. Larger schools, let's say up around 1,000 students, will have gym capacities between 3,000 and 4,000.
In volleyball, one noticeable difference is the starting time. Most local matches this season started between 4 and 5 p.m. W.S. Neal played a couple of matches this season during school hours.
In Illinois, all matches (at least during the week) are at night. If there are enough kids, there will be a freshmen match at 5:30 p.m. Freshmen matches are played on a time length until 6:10 p.m. The junior varsity match will start at 6:30 p.m. followed by the varsity match. W.S. Neal did not play any junior varsity matches this season, while T.R. Miller played three.
Both W.S. Neal and T.R. Miller played multiple tri-matches. Illinois schools, at least in the south, do not. Tri-matches are a common practice at the grade school level in Illinois.
Several Alabama matches use a best three-out-of-five sets format. Illinois plays best two-out-of-three.
The volleyball postseason format is much different in Alabama. Alabama starts out with a four-team Area Tournament that uses a double elimination format. The top two teams advance to the regionals. Illinois opens up with a four-team regional. Once a team loses, it is eliminated.
Of course, a huge difference in volleyball is several Illinois programs have existed for 25 years or more. This is the just the second year for volleyball for Escambia County schools.
I've yet to experience a basketball season, but I do know a few differences. Both T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal play most of its boys and girls basketball games on the same night. In Illinois, boys and girls play separate schedules.
One reason boys and girls can play on the same nights in Alabama is most girls teams do not play junior varsity contests. Most girls teams play a junior varsity game prior to their varsity contest in Illinois.
Here are a couple of other general differences. Alabama allows grade school kids to play on high school teams. Illinois does not allow them to compete.
Alabama has six classes, while Illinois has two classes for most of its sports. The exceptions are football (eight classes), boys and girls tennis (one class) and girls golf (one class). There is considerable talk of expanding tennis and girls golf to two classes in the near future.
Again, I'm not here to say one state's system is better than the other. Hey, Illinois is a state that lays claim to the Cubs and White Sox, two professional baseball teams that have not won a World Series in a combined 181 years. It is a state where every time you turn on a University of Illinois football game, the first words out of the announcer's mouth are "this is where Red Grange and Dick Butkus played."
It is nice to remember the star players from years gone by, but Grange is dead and has not played at Illinois in 80 years. Butkus has not played there in 40 years. It is bad when they are the most recent heroes you can find.
Anyway, maybe we can learn a thing or two from each other and make the other one better.