Shock waves of confer-ence realignment in Indiana are rippling tremors of unrest in what many consider the grandest of all Indiana high school conferences.
The North Central Conference, which includes Logansport among its charter members, has undergone more change in the past three months than it has in the past 50 years. It all started when conference members voted to invite Lafayette Jeff, which had been a member for 70 years before leaving 10 years ago, to rejoin the conference, along with two other Tippecanoe County schools, Harrison and McCutcheon. New Castle, the only school to vote against that move, then announced it was leaving the NCC for a smaller conference. Not to be outdone, the Huntington Vikings, who were desperate for a decent conference affiliation a decade ago, announced they too were leaving to join a conglomeration of suburban Fort Wayne schools.
All these changes leave the NCC with an odyssey – an odd number of teams, which is what most conference officials try to avoid. Simply put, it makes it difficult to schedule conference games because one school is always the odd man out on nights when conference games are played. This is particularly problematic for football, because only one game is scheduled a week and schedules are less flexible than in other sports.
So what should North Central Conference officials do? After the dust settles from fining New Castle $14,000 for its departure and rescheduling games that would have been played with the Trojans, something Muncie Central and Richmond have already done, officials have four possible courses of action:
1. Do nothing. Let the new conference play through this period with more of its original membership than it has had in the past 10 years. It’s possible a school board election in New Castle could change that community’s position on leaving the conference, a move that was not unanimous. Openings in the NCC are few and far between and if New Castle is to reconsider, the window for changing a decision may not be long. Conference officials may not want to wait until the next election to act. A natural candidate for a 10th NCC team is likely to emerge.
2. Pursue the classic NCC image school. Harrison and McCutcheon aside, the NCC has virtually always been represented by schools that are county seat high schools in contiguous counties. There aren’t many of those fitting the enrollment template of the NCC schools available, but one possibility is Noblesville, which is unlikely given its move away from Lafayette, Jeff and Harrison in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference. The Millers are located in the seat of Hamilton County, which is near Anderson, Muncie and Marion. Noblesville is largely in the shadow of the 800-pound gorilla of Indiana high school sports, Carmel. Growing enrollments at schools such as Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern will no doubt make the Millers less significant in their conference in the years to come.
3. Pursue geographic balance. With the addition of three Tippecanoe County schools with one vote, the NCC members that have had the most to lose from the move are Richmond, Muncie and Anderson. Adding Connersville would provide a good fit for Richmond in particular. Connersville brings two state basketball championships to the table and has produced quality athletes such as former Butler star Matt Howard. Connersville has only recently joined another conference, but given the circumstances in the NCC, it’s worth considering for the NCC and Connersville.
4. Go green. No, this doesn’t have anything to do with being environmentally friendly or supporting Michigan State. But the conference could retain at least one school with green as a school color if it readmits a former conference member – Indianapolis Tech. At first blush, this may not sound like a natural fit, but it would give NCC schools more Indianapolis exposure, play to the strength of the tradition of the NCC and add a school that is clearly rebounding from some difficult years in inner city Indianapolis. The loss of New Castle and its largest high school gym in the world is a blow to the NCC, but playing games in downtown Indianapolis would take the sting out of it, particularly if NCC tournaments could be played in Indy. Logansport in particular traveled well when crowds made it to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis two years ago.
What the NCC also represents, other than academic integrity, is the work ethic of the old rustbelt cities of the Midwest – the kind branded by manufacturing and stable communities. The NCC has never stood for the Non-Commital Conference, and its members have stood together through the heydays and its May Days. If and when there is a 10th team added, that kind of institution and community will be the best fit for the NCC.
Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.