The season came to an end for the varsity football team on Saturday after a 22-0 loss to the Loyola Academy Ramblers. The Panthers failed to improve in their final placing compared to last years’ quarterfinal exit after a blowout loss to Lincoln Way East, and it’s all because of the current format of the Southwest Prairie Conference.
The SPC is currently a “closed conference” when it comes to football, meaning that all teams in the conference play only conference games in the nine game regular season. This puts the Panthers at a disadvantage compared to other area teams, such as Naperville Central of the Dupage Valley Conference and Loyola Academy of the Chicago Catholic-Blue conference. Naperville Central and Loyola not only play in very tough and competitive conferences, they also play in open conferences.
The open conference format allows for teams to schedule non-conference games against any opponent they wish. Last year for example, the Redhawks traveled to Lakewood, Ohio to take on St. Edward High School. St. Edward finished the 2017 season ranked 89th in the country and 10th in Ohio. Being able to schedule games such as these is a huge advantage for schools in open conferences. Not only does it show the IHSA selection committee how good of a team you really are, but it gets the players ready for the tough and competitive postseason, something which the SPC failed to do for Oswego this year.
The thing about football in the SPC is, there is just not a lot of competition for Oswego. That’s not meant as an insult to the schools, but the only conference opponent in the past four seasons to defeat the Panthers is Plainfield North. On top of that, the Panthers have the conference wrapped around their claw, winning the conference title eight consecutive seasons including this season.
Look at this season. Four SPC teams made the playoffs: Oswego at 9-0, Oswego East at 7-2, Plainfield South at 7-2 and Minooka at 7-2. Oswego was the only team to get out the first round, with the other SPC teams’ games not even being close.
South fell to Naperville Central 42-10, the Indians lost to Loyola Academy 38-14 and the Wolves lost the closest contest out of them, falling to Barrington 23-14 despite a late comeback push. Oswego won their first round game 49-7 against Taft.
The competition in the conference is not premier. The closest game the Panthers played in all year was the regular season finale against Plainfield South, a 22-17 win. If the most competitive game you play is a win against a team that got absolutely demolished in their first round, you are going to have a very difficult road through the playoffs – even if you are 9-0.
Next year may prove different. With Yorkville and West Aurora joining the conference, Oswego will get two new challenges.
West Aurora is a very similar team to Oswego. The Blackhawks have traditionally been a basketball school, but since 2016, they’ve made the playoffs three times and have two conference championships. The Blackhawks lost this past weekend against Edwardsville 45-16 in a class 8a second round matchup.
Yorkville, on the other hand, is interesting. They could prove to be a very viable opponent in many sports next season, but I’m skeptical about the football program. They lost this weekend, 35-21 to Richards in a 6a second round game. The Foxes, being a 6a school, will have their work cut out for them moving into a conference with all 8a schools, which explains my skepticism.
The additions forced the SPC to introduce a brand new format, which may just fix the closed conference predicament Oswego experiences year in and year out.
The SPC approved the new format for the conference, creating two divisions with six teams each. For football season, only five games are guaranteed in the schedule, that being the other teams in our division. That leaves room for athletic administration to schedule non-conference games against opponents that Oswego hasn’t faced since the SPC expanded to ten teams in 2016.
This new format looks as if it could provide great opportunities for the football program to play powerhouses such as Naperville Central, Waubonsie Valley or even a Brother Rice if they so choose. The possibilities are endless, and the opportunity to face high quality competition may just be what Coach Brian Cooney needs to get his team over the hump and become a real playoff threat in the always competitive 8a class.