Urbana cancels remaining varsity football schedule; Peoria teams impacted


An Urbana helmet on the field before the Tigers' homecoming game against Richwoods on October 11, 2019. Photo by Joey Wright.

Urbana High School announced on Monday afternoon that it would be cancelling the remainder of its varsity football schedule. The move sent a ripple through the entire Big Twelve Conference.


Among the most respected conferences in the region, some of the state's best teams in various sports have come from the Big Twelve. Peoria High, Peoria Notre Dame, Richwoods, Normal West and Danville have all enjoyed success on the gridiron in recent years.


But what really stands out is how deep this conference is. From top to bottom, all 11 teams are usually tough to compete with. That won’t be the case this year, though, with Urbana electing to forgo the rest of its varsity football season.


Instead, the school will field a junior varsity team to allow the many freshmen and sophomores to still play this year. The Tigers also cancelled their season last spring amid COVID-19 issues.


The decision was made days after a 65-0 home loss to Centennial on Aug. 27.


“We made a very tough decision (Monday) night to not continue our varsity schedule and only play a JV schedule,” Urbana athletic director Steve Waller told The News-Gazette. “We didn’t feel like we had, both age-wise and experience-wise, kids to go out and compete for the next eight weeks in a varsity schedule, especially in the Big Twelve.”


Urbana’s decision is expected to cause a ripple throughout the conference, with three Peoria schools among those who were on the docket for the Tigers.


Peoria Notre Dame was slated to play at Urbana on September 10, while Richwoods and Peoria High School were to face Urbana on October 8 and October 15, respectively.


Peoria athletic director Brien Dunphy understands how hard this situation is for Urbana.


"I empathize with Urbana,” Dunphy said. “Their coaches have worked just as hard as every other conference football coach. They prepared and planned for a successful season and put in the work.”


Dunphy has consistently held Urbana’s administration in high regard and knows Monday’s decision was not reached easily.

“Steve Waller is a great athletic administrator. Urbana athletics are first rate with high expectations, and I know this was a difficult and disappointing decision. I am very happy for their athletes that Urbana will continue to play JV football as scheduled."


According to Dunphy, confidence remains high that teams will be able to find alternative arrangements for the cancelled games.


Urbana was slated to play Bloomington on Friday night. The Purple Raiders elected not to reschedule the game and will be awarded a win via forfeit.


"In a normal year, losing a game once the season has begun would put a school in a very difficult position. But this year is anything but normal. Over the last few years many, many schools have been forced to forfeit contests, cancel seasons or play JV in a varsity contest in one sport or another due to quarantined athletes, " said Dunphy.


While rare in the high school sports landscape before the pandemic, cancellations have become far more common in the last 18 months. COVID-19 and lower participation are resulting in more schedule changes than ever before.


So how does an in-season issue like this get resolved?


"Big Twelve athletic directors are hard-charging problem solvers. They went to work to fill the open football week," Dunphy added about the changing schedule.


"Cancellations are announced almost everyday. On Monday, my Lions were fortunate to find an opponent for this Friday when St. Francis’ opponent was forced to cancel. We were scheduled to play Urbana week 8 and that week remains open."


Other teams who had the Tigers on the schedule are less optimistic, including the Irish.


“We’ve already looked but there really isn’t anything available in week three,” PND head coach Pat Armstrong told Clutch Sports Media on Tuesday. “You’re basically looking at next week for us, it’s the worst case scenario … the worst thing I want is for our boys not to get a game and play eight games instead of nine.”

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