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New school year comes with conference changes

Comings, goings affect conferences throughout area

Regardless of the school that they follow, high school sports enthusiasts will see changes on the ever-shifting conference landscape beginning this fall.

Changes abound throughout the area, most drastically affecting local private schools. Marmion, St. Francis and Aurora Christian move from the Suburban Christian Conference to the Chicago Catholic league in football and soccer while Aurora Central Catholic and Wheaton Academy were part of the former SCC bloc to relocate to the Metro Suburban Conference.

Other Marmion and St. Francis sports teams – along with Rosary – will compete in what remains of the SCC this year before Marmion and St. Francis join the Chicago Catholic League in all sports beginning in 2015-16, while Rosary links up with the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference.

The changes will break up some notable, local conference rivalries – Marmion/Aurora Central Catholic, ACC/Rosary and Wheaton Academy/St. Francis being the most prominent – but also will create some new ones, sooner rather than later, in ACC athletic director Sean Bieterman's opinion.

"I don't think it usually takes very long to be honest with you," Bieterman said. "When you have teams that are competing evenly with each other, and we're looking at a lot of teams that on paper look very similar, I think that's when you start to see rivalries born."

In football, ACC and Wheaton Academy will be part of the six-team West Division of the Metro Suburban. The Metro Suburban has 12 football-playing members and 14 schools overall, creating two, seven-team divisions in other sports that mostly will feature the same teams in each division, with a few tweaks based on competitive balance in certain sports.

ACC, Wheaton Academy and the other schools that left the SCC for the Metro Suburban had grown wary of the gap between themselves and the larger schools in the SCC, especially in football.

"I think it's a nice setup," Bieterman said. "I think it gives us a great chance to build our programs. I envision our athletic [programs] being able to grow much stronger as a result of this new conference."

Bieterman said he'd like to keep Marmion on ACC's scheduled in the future but that might require patience, especially in marquee sports such as football and basketball, given the scheduling constraints of the schools' new conference set-ups. Wheaton Academy AD Dave Underwood said Wheaton Academy and St. Francis will continue to compete in many sports.

From a football standpoint, the Chicago Catholic League is considered cutthroat competition, and the arrival of Montini, Marmion, St. Francis and Aurora Christian from the SCC should only enhance the depth. 

Marmion and St. Francis will be part of the Chicago Catholic Green's Division – along with Montini, Fenwick and De La Salle – while Aurora Christian will compete in the White Division.

Marmion football coach Dan Thorpe said his players probably won't pay the scheduling changes much mind – in most cases.

"The kids don't know Plainfield Central from Ottawa," Thorpe said, referencing Marmion's opening non-conference opponents. "They do know St. Francis."

Elsewhere, the Upstate Eight Conference moves from 14 to 16 schools, albeit only for this school year. West Chicago shifts from the UEC Valley to the UEC River in its second year in the conference while newcomers West Aurora and Glenbard East each slot into the Valley. Each of the Tri-Cities schools remain in the UEC River.

The conference is exploring plans to account for the impending losses of Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and Metea Valley to the DuPage Valley Conference in 2015-16.

"I think the new additions to the conference are a very positive thing," Geneva AD Jim Kafer said. "The excitement is a little bit tempered because at the end of year we'll lose three schools so we have to find at least one more in order to move on, but I think West Aurora is an excellent addition and Glenbard East, too, I think is a good fit, and West Chicago has already been in for a year. I think that's all been good, and then I'm confident that we'll find some good schools down the road."

There have been rumblings a drastic conference shakeup affecting the UEC and other conferences could be on the horizon but Kafer isn't convinced that will occur in the near future.

"If I had to guess right now, I'd lean more toward us adding one to three schools to get up to 16 as opposed to a quote super conference, but you know what, who knows," Kafer said. "If a situation like that presented itself and you could come up with a workable arrangement of more than 16 schools, that'd be fine, too."

While the UEC is bumping up by two schools this year, the Northern Illinois Big 12 is down to 10 schools with Dixon and Streator leaving the NI Big 12 West for other conferences. Rochelle is shifting from the NI Big 12 East to the West to balanced the conference with two, five-team divisions.

The conference has struggled to replenish its ranks, and this year's five-team divisional format presents scheduling challenges. Football teams had to line up three non-conference games.

"I think if we were able to find a couple schools to come in and fill those spots vacated by Dixon and Streator, that would be great," Kaneland AD Peter Goff said. "At the last meeting I was at, there was really no talk about anybody trying to come in."

If no new schools come aboard, reconfiguring to one, 10-team conference – at least for football – might be considered.

"In football it would be a lot easier if we just [changed] to one conference because then we wouldn't have to mess around with finding non-conference games," Goff said.

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