Schwab: Conference fluidity bubbles up again
Tri-Cities athletic directors seem to understand why Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley appear on the verge of leaving the Upstate Eight Conference for the DuPage Valley Conference.
That doesn’t mean they have to like it.
Administrators at the three, Indian Prairie District 204 high schools recommended this week to the school board that each of the three schools move to the DVC effective fall 2015, meaning the expanded, 16-team UEC – with two, eight-school divisions – would be a one-shot deal next school year.
“I thought it was going to be great,” St. Charles East athletic director Mike Sommerfeld said. “I thought we were going to have probably the best conference in the state. That was a great conference, but I can understand if they wanted to leave [for the DVC], why they’d want to do that, too. But it kind of stinks we didn’t get to see what it was going to be like.”
The latest twist in the UEC/DVC tug-of-war – the conferences have swapped and poached schools from each other the past couple years leading to the current maneuvering – highlights a strikingly turbulent landscape for numerous area schools (more on that later).
As for the UEC, three of the conference’s largest, most successful and most comprehensive athletic programs appear headed out the door, provided the DVC signs off on the move as expected.
“We’ll probably try to still schedule [Neuqua, Waubonsie and Metea] as much as we can in all the sports we play them in … but it’s going to be a big loss for our conference, no doubt about it,” Sommerfeld said.
The UEC is slated to bump up from 14 schools to 16 next school year with the arrivals of DVC defectors West Aurora and Glenbard East. Those moves came on the heels of Lake Park leaving the UEC for the DVC, replaced in the UEC this year by former DVC member West Chicago.
But the DVC’s cream-of-the-crop programs – the likes of Naperville Central, Naperville North, Wheaton Warrenville South – remain in the DVC, and speculation was rampant that the DVC would raid the “Valley” schools to replenish its ranks.
Now that appears to be reality, which would leave the UEC needing to add either one or three schools by fall 2015 to have the even number of schools needed for reasonable scheduling.
Geneva AD Jim Kafer is a veteran of such scenarios, with mixed results.
“It’s a funny thing – sometimes [new schools] fall right into your lap, and other times it looks like there’s no hope,” Kafer said. “I know we ran into that in the North Suburban Conference when Fenton left many years ago. We thought we had a couple likely candidates, and that didn’t happen, and five years later, we finally brought in three new schools, so you just don’t know for sure. Sometimes it doesn’t take too long, other times it’s more of a struggle than you think.”
Neuqua, Waubonsie and Metea all are in the UEC’s Valley Division, opposite the River Division that houses each of the Tri-Cities schools, plus Elgin, Larkin and Streamwood. Aside from losing quality crossover matchups with that trio, sports such as girls gymnastics and boys and girls swimming – in which there are not separate divisions – could be in a scheduling bind going forward.
Batavia AD Dave Andrews is optimistic the UEC will figure out a workable solution in the months to come.
“The thing about the remaining ADs in the Upstate Eight is they’re committed to the Upstate Eight, so we’ll go through the process like we did last year [when West Aurora and Glenbard East were added],” Andrews said. “It turned out good for us, and I’m very confident it’ll turn out good again.”
Remaining SCC schools in flux: When seven Suburban Christian Conference schools announced in the spring they were leaving for the Metro Suburban Conference in 2014-15, remaining SCC schools Marmion, Rosary, St. Francis, Aurora Christian, Montini and Marian Central pledged to stick together, eventually partnering with the Chicago Catholic League for football and soccer.
But with recent word that Marian Central is reneging on the plan to instead join the East Suburban Catholic Conference, Marmion AD Joe Chivari and his brethren are nearing a critical juncture.
“We’re just a skeleton of a conference right now,” Chivari said. “We are not sure exactly what the future holds. We have one plan just to exist next year with the four schools (Marmion is boys-only and Rosary girls-only) and pick up a lot of non-conference competitions – how long we could survive doing that, probably not long at all, maybe one year. Maybe we could attract four more schools to come to us. If not, we would certainly have to look at joining full-time another conference, or creating a new one.”
Chivari said the Chicago Catholic League acted quickly on troubleshooting football scheduling in Marian’s absence; De La Salle was added to the Green Division to replace Marian. Some tinkering with the crossovers also was required.
The SCC schools’ plan was to remain independent and potentially expand its membership in other sports such as basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball, but with Marian out the door so abruptly, a scheduling crisis is approaching fast. Chivari said the SCC schools will be open-minded about any schools that want to join their ranks.
“The remaining SCC schools are hoping for other schools to consider membership with us regardless if they’re public or private, as long as they’re similar in nature of size and competitiveness,” Chivari said. “We’d consider any school like that. I’m hoping other area public schools wouldn’t disregard membership with us just because we’re private schools, and the name of the conference might not be etched in stone any more, either.”
Burlington Central likely on the move: Burlington Central is aggressively exploring leaving the Big Northern Conference for a new, eight-team league that likely would include several of the current BNC East members, along with Woodstock and Woodstock North.
Central AD Steve Diversey – who discussed the possible new conference in an informational session with school board members Monday – said several factors make the new conference appealing, including parting company with some of the smallest BNC members that don’t offer the levels that Central can field in several sports.
“It was enough in bigger sports that really created an uncomfortable feeling, would be the best way to put it,” Diversey said. “We missed out on a few lower-level football games, we missed out on a lot of JV soccer games. Across the board, there were quite a few.”
Diversey said other incentives for a change are to do away with longer trips to some of the westernmost schools in the BNC, and a tighter enrollment range in the proposed new conference. Central (about 1,050 students) would still be the largest school in the new conference but its enrollment wouldn’t dwarf the smaller members the way it does in the BNC.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.