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November 28, 2012

KITCHELL: Irony in local sports

— It’s ironic that two of the major Indiana sports stories in the past week both involved larger athletic conferences.

At the local level, the item of immediate interest to Logansport High School fans, athletes, coaches and followers is that officials from the North Central Conference have approached officials from former conference member Lafayette Jeff and its Tippecanoe County contemporaries, McCutcheon and Harrison, about switching conferences. The move comes after the three Tippecanoe County schools’ fellow Hoosier Crossroads Conference members bypassed them to talk with other metro Indianapolis schools about forming a new super-Indy conference with mega schools. Jeff, along with Logansport, was among the charter members of the North Central Conference, but bolted the eight-team league for the likes of Carmel, Fishers, Zionsville, Brownsburg and Hamilton Southeastern. The results have been mostly dismal for the Tippecanoe schools, which are competing with burgeoning school corporations bursting at the seams with growth.

It’s easy to sit back and pretend the NCC can do without Jeff, let alone McCutcheon and Harrison. When Jeff exited, it didn’t take long for another black-and-red clad school about Jeff’s size to fill the void. Huntington gladly took over the slot and has had reasonable success.

Although the NCC has been an eight-team conference for the past half century, the fact remains that it was at 10 schools well before that when Frankfort and Indianapolis Tech were members. For that matter, even Rochester was a member of the conference for a short while.

While there is no precedent set for more than one school from a county joining the NCC, there’s certainly no reason why that’s an excuse to keep Harrison and McCutcheon from the league, other than pure tradition. For that matter, many NCC schools including Logansport already play one or all three of the Tippecanoe schools. The basketball sectional that includes Logansport and another NCC member, Kokomo, also includes all three Tippecanoe schools.

The timing for expanding the conference is good with the completion of the four-lane Hoosier Heartland Corridor which will shave travel times from Lafayette east to Logansport and Huntington. While a larger conference won’t mean more television revenue for the NCC, it could mean other advantages. A larger NCC could be split into divisions that limit the number of long distance conference games in favor of conference tournaments and meets to determine overall championships.

But if that move is made and it is the time for expansion, it would be the right time to consider expanding the NCC to include at least two other schools. Why? Because class sports have mixed enrollments of 3A and 4A schools in the league for football and it would enhance the league to add other teams with strong academic and athletic traditions. Adding Warsaw and Plymouth, for example, would allow the NCC to split into either north/south divisions or separate enrollment divisions that would be more competitive. Divisional play would cut down on travel times and make it more convenient for students, parents and fans to follow teams on the road.

Of course, any time conference expansion is mentioned, there are other names in the mix. Connersville is one that comes to mind, and even West Lafayette would not be out of the realm of possibility.

As for the Big Ten’s addition of Maryland and Rutgers, it’s really all about the number of television sets tuned to the Big Ten Network. The move, which creates a 14-team “Big Ten” (for those keeping count at home the Big 12 still has only 10 members), is maybe not the last expansion for the league. The move is a coup from the standpoint of pulling a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference away from the Chesapeake Bay to a Great Lakes conference. So much for ACC basketball superiority. It’s ironic that Notre Dame recently opted to join the ACC, but an ACC school is opting to join a Midwest conference. Rutgers will benefit from the luster of the Big Ten in the New York market and gives the conference an interesting dynamic with Northwestern – linking New York and Chicago in the same major conference.

Don’t expect the Big Ten to add UCLA any time soon to get another market, but don’t be surprised if Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, Kansas State or even Wake Forest join forces with the Big Ten in the near future. Even if this is it for expansion, which is not likely, the Big Ten will be well positioned with revenue to be one of the top three conferences in the nation for years to come.

And if Notre Dame ever decides to join forces with the Big Ten, that would skyrocket the conference revenue to the top of the charts. But that will happen when the NBC peacock becomes an endangered species in South Bend, and Irish officials have refused to let that bird ever go South for the fiscal winter.

Meanwhile, keep your conference standings handy. There will be a quiz on affiliations.

• Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at ptnews@pharostribune.com.

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