Scheduling just got a little more flexible for the Sunflower League’s 12 football programs.
Beginning next season, the league will be split into two divisions, according to a proposal accepted by league school principals this past week — a move which came about due to the desire of some head coaches to play opponents outside of the league during the regular season.
Sunflower League teams will continue to play their district opponents the last three weeks of the season, but in the five weeks before that they will play the league teams within their division or pod. The first week of the season would be left open for each program to play any team it chooses.
The details of who will be in what division haven’t been finalized quite yet, Free State High athletic director Mike Hill said, but more clarity will come once the Kansas State High School Activities Association announces football district assignments for the next two years.
For the city’s two Sunflower representatives, Lawrence and Free State, the date of their annual City Showdown would depend on how district assignments shake out. Free State could end up in a western district with Topeka and Manhattan programs, and if the Firebirds and Lions aren’t in the same league division in that scenario, they could potentially play in the new open week to start the season.
That sequence of events might defeat the purpose of the new scheduling format for LHS and FSHS, but Firebirds coach Bob Lisher wasn’t surprised that coaches had interest in adding variety to their yearly opponents.
“Most of the Sunflower League coaches were looking for something a little different,” Lisher said. “I think it’s kind of fun to get outside of the league.”
Lawrence coach Dirk Wedd, like Lisher, said Olathe North coach Gene Weir is interested in showcasing his team against another top program, probably from out of state.
Wedd said different coaches will use the flexibility differently and gave the example of this year’s Lions (0-3), who didn’t have much experience coming into the season. With an open date, Wedd could have scheduled an opening-week opponent that would help his team gain confidence.
“When you have the ability to schedule one game, there are times when you really need a win,” Wedd said, “and the Sunflower League doesn’t let you come up for air.”
Whatever happens, Lisher and other league coaches don’t expect to shed any tears about the league’s new format.
“I’m a fan of the way it is now, and I’m a fan of changing it,” Lisher said. “I’m gonna play whoever they tell me to play. I always have.”