West Central Conference likely headed toward reconstruction
Maybe they could make this a reality show.
It seems every couple of years, the West Central Conference gets a makeover. Now, the loop seems destined for a complete overhaul.
At an administrator's meeting last week, five members of the North half of the conference said they are packing their bags and moving to a new location for the 2011-12 season. The conference approved the moves, but a second approval must be met, according to conference bylaws, at a second reading in March. If approved again, the West Central Conference would then be left with 13 teams and be realigned into six teams in the North and seven in the South.
Currently, the North half is comprised of Albany, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Foley, Melrose, Milaca, Mora, New London-Spicer, St. Cloud Cathedral and Sauk Centre.
The South half is currently Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Benson, BOLD, Lac qui Parle Valley, Minnewaska, Montevideo, Morris, Paynesville and Yellow Medicine East. LPGE is in the South half for football only.
Foley, Milaca, Mora and St. Cloud Cathedral will be leaving the conference and joining Little Falls, Princeton and Zimmerman in forming the new Granite Ridge Conference next season. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, citing declining enrollment, is leaving to join the Prairie Conference. The existing members will almost certainly approve the moves again in March.
The current plan if there are 13 teams will be for Albany, Melrose, Minnewaska, New London-Spicer, Paynesville and Sauk Centre to be in the North and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Benson, BOLD, Lac qui Parle Valley, Montevideo, Morris and Yellow Medicine East to be in the South. This would the alignments for all sports with the exception of football where Paynesville and Montevideo would switch divisions.
In another surprise move during the administrator's meeting last week, Albany, Melrose and New London-Spicer were voted 9-4 (five abstained) to be excluded from the conference upon completion of the 2011-12 season and will either be forced to form a new conference or try to join an existing one.
In terms of enrollment size (grades 9-12, minus 40 percent of free- or reduced-lunch students), NLS is currently the highest at 508, followed by Melrose at 446, Albany at 441 and Montevideo at 405.
"We certainly understand our differences in size," said NLS activities director John Vraa. "Everyone's enrollment is down and we generally have been down 30 to 35 students each year lately. But this year we actually went up by a couple of students.
"But our contention is that if we took football out of the equation, shouldn't we, as 30-year members of the conference, be able to stay in?"
NLS would be willing to remove its football team from the loop and go with an independent schedule for next season, but would want to keep all other sports in the conference, if, according to reports, the Minnesota State High School League is likely to make football section conferences as soon as the 2012-13 season.
"We strongly expressed that we, in good faith, would still look for another option for our other sports," said Vraa. "But if we can't come up with one, we could still stay in the West Central. But I guess not everyone agreed to that."
If NLS, Albany and Melrose were ousted, that would leave the conference as a 10-team group with Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Benson, BOLD, Lac qui Parle Valley, Minnewaska, Montevideo, Morris, Paynesville, Sauk Centre and Yellow Medicine East.
"As far as having 10 teams, it can be good and it can be bad," said West Central Conference Executive Secretary Rick Fischer, also the activities director at Sauk Centre High School. "The playoffs and tournaments we hold are what funds the WCC. We have not had schools pay dues in three years. While we can still do some of this with 10 teams, it will not exactly be the same."
Conference members wanted the remaining school districts to be more competitive in terms of enrollments and level of play.
"I believe the 10 schools involved believe we are very similar schools," said Fischer. "That is what makes this appealing to all involved. It is not a friendly thing to do and it has led to hard feelings. I do think the 10 schools involved feel it is best for their student-athletes."
Chances are that if NLS could not find another conference for its non-football sports, the Wildcats have the option of re-petitioning to the MSHSL to be replaced in the West Central Conference.
The meeting in March may provide more answers. Or, more hard feelings.