When the Catholic League football realignment plan goes into effect in 2018, Loyola and Mount Carmel will be in different divisions for the first time since 2002. Patrick Gorski/Chicago Tribune (Patrick Gorski / Chicago Tribune)
Change is coming to the Catholic Blue and some coaches are seeing red.
Catholic League administrators recently approved a football realignment plan for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, when the conference drops from 18 to 15 members. Aurora Christian, Bishop McNamara and St. Francis are leaving after 2017 to join the Metro Suburban Conference.
The new alignment will feature three divisions and break up the core five Blue schools — Brother Rice, Loyola, Mount Carmel, Providence and St. Rita — for the first time in 16 years.
As it was then, the odd team out will be Mount Carmel, which will drop to the Green. In 2002, the Caravan was in the White Division of the Catholic Metro, a merger of the Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic Conference that ended after that school year.
The other four traditional Blue schools will be joined by Montini under the new plan. The Green will feature Mount Carmel, De La Salle, Fenwick, Marmion and St. Laurence, while the Red lineup will be DePaul Prep, Hope Academy, Leo, St. Ignatius and St. Joseph.
"It’s pretty shocking to me that Mount Carmel is not going to be in the Blue," Loyola coach John Holecek said.
How did that happen? After a lengthy process, according to Loyola athletic director Pat Mahoney.
The original realignment proposal ranked teams on a weighted formula: 70 percent for Catholic League wins (including crossovers), 15 percent for male enrollment and 15 percent for number of football players at all levels.
But that plan would have bumped St. Laurence and St. Ignatius up to the Blue.
"We didn’t think that was right," Mahoney said.
So the conference-wins component was changed to a point system that gave added weight to wins vs. Blue teams. That led to the current plan, which hasn’t been popular with Blue coaches.
"Every year when we have our all-conference meeting, we finish our discussion with, ‘How are we going to get relief for teams in the Blue?’" Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said. "We’re knocking the heck out of each other every week."
"I know the (Blue) coaches agree we’d love to have the old-school North and South (divisions)," Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said. "The league feels it’s stronger to have more teams in the playoffs."
The concern there was smaller schools like St. Joseph — which last year earned the first playoff berth in program history — are better served by a three-division format that limits their games vs. the Blue to occasional crossovers.
"I wanted to break the whole league up," Holecek said. "Two Blue teams last year (Mount Carmel and Providence) didn’t make the playoffs. Are you kidding me? They’re definitely in the top 32 in the state (in their class)."
That’s been a recurring theme: St. Rita missed the playoffs in 2012 and 2015, Providence the past two seasons and Rice in 2013.
"The Blue Division coaches have been asking for several years to break up the Blue," Mahoney said. "Their reasoning as football coaches is very sound. But our job as athletic directors is to do what’s best for all.
"As a league, we have really been pretty adamant about parity and giving everyone a chance to succeed. And I think that’s why the ADs went the way they did."
That said, seeing Mount Carmel leave its traditional rivals is "super strange," Mahoney said. "It’s really a perfect storm. They had a rough stretch when we started collecting numbers. I think we all know Mount Carmel is a Blue Division school."
There was a provision to opt into a tougher division, but Mount Carmel accepted the assignment.
"We just happened to be the first team it was offered to," Lenti said. "We said we’ll take advantage of the opportunity."
Given the Caravan’s history — Mount Carmel has 11 state titles, five runner-up finishes and a yearly average of 11 wins during Lenti’s 33 seasons — he expects to be back in the Blue when the next realignment happens for 2020.
"People come in and say we’re running away," Lenti said. "How are we running away? Who had a better record than we do over the years? That’s just foolishness."
The Caravan still will play crossovers against Loyola and Providence, but as of now have no games scheduled for 2018 or ’19 against St. Rita or Rice.
St. Rita coach Todd Kuska will miss the rivalry.
"It’s a game our kids love to play in and be a part of," he said. "The last seven, eight, nine years, it’s been the (Great American Rivalries) Game of the Week on a national level."
Ditto for Badke: "I’ve got a son coming into Brother Rice next year, and he said, "What do you mean we’re not playing Mount Carmel?’"
One Green Division coach, meanwhile, is taking the changes in stride. For Fenwick’s Gene Nudo, it’ll mean his first meeting with the Caravan since taking over the program in 2012.
"I know a lot of traditionalists want to see the Blue be the Blue," Nudo said. "We’re still going to have a brutal schedule. It’s still Catholic League football. We’re going to have tough matchups."