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Baird: North Central Conference alignment still very much up in the air
May 14, 2013Lafayette Jefferson High School
After months of speculation, hesitation and frustration, conference uncertainty appeared to end for Harrison, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon in February.
With an exit from the Hoosier Crossroads Conference looming, the schools locked up the best (and only) available option by accepting invitations from the North Central Conference. That triggered discussions of divisional alignments, conference tournaments and the tweaking of non-conference schedules.
If only it were that easy.
Jay County’s decision to turn down the NCC’s membership offer in favor of one from the Allen County Athletic Conference last month left a conspicuous hole in the NCC’s 12-school plan.
Other conferences have approached North Central Conference members Huntington North and New Castle. Until those schools make decisions, the NCC can’t move forward on several crucial items.
Here’s what we know for sure: the athletic directors at Harrison, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon say they have been assured by the other eight NCC schools that their league membership is assured. Regardless of any potential departures, the three Tippecanoe County schools will begin participating in the league in the 2014-15 school year.
Whether the conference will exist with 10, 12 or some other number of schools is still anyone’s guess.
The Hoosier Heritage Conference is reportedly courting New Castle, and the league might realistically be a better geographical fit for the Henry County school located about 40 miles east of Indianapolis. (According to the New Castle Courier Times, New Castle cast the only dissenting vote against the NCC expansion plan in February, citing travel expenses.)
An anonymously sourced internet report this week said New Castle had informed the NCC it was leaving, but Principal Chris Walker later told the Courier Times no decision had been made.
Harrison AD Jerry Galema, Lafayette Jeff AD Mark Preston and McCutcheon AD Ryan Walden all said they’ve received no indication from the other NCC members that New Castle has informed them of their departure.
Travel concerns for all current and future NCC schools are legitimate. All indications are that the administrators involved are prepared to be creative to minimize or avoid long mid-week trips.
In addition to an east-west divisional setup, this could also involve the establishment of conference tournaments in some sports (so round-robin scheduling would not be necessary) or multiple league teams meeting at one site to play multiple contests on Saturdays.
The problem is, the NCC can’t move forward on any of those ideas until it settles the number of member schools.
If New Castle does leave, expect the NCC to move forward as a 10-team league, with two five-team divisions for football and possibly other sports.
If Huntington North and New Castle both opt to stay, or both leave, the NCC may need to find another school to return to an even number. Muncie South was considered during the NCC’s initial expansion talks but did not receive an invitation. While some are concerned that Muncie South will eventually consolidate with NCC member Muncie Central, it probably makes more sense to bring the school on as a temporary member than to exist with an odd number of schools.
Galema, Preston and Walden have begun lining up non-conference football opponents for the first two weeks of the season for 2014-15 and 15-16. But much of their schedules in that sport and others, which are usually set several years in advance, cannot be completed until they know their conference makeup.
We should know more in a few weeks, as Hoosier Heritage Conference officials are expected to meet on June 10.
Until then, administrators, coaches and athletes at Tippecanoe County’s three largest schools will continue playing the waiting game.