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COLUMN

Conference chaos not limited to college athletics

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Major moves may be coming to Fort Wayne-area prep sports scene

Friday, April 12, 2013 - 6:31 am

The winds of change that have blown through college athletics regarding conference realignment over the past few years are moving into northeast Indiana's prep scene.

Good luck getting anyone to talk about it.

The topic of conference realignment and who is going where over the next year or two is as taboo to talk about as religion or politics. But there is no doubt it is happening sooner rather than later.

The first official move will be later this month when the Jay County School Board votes whether to join the Allen County Athletic Conference or perhaps even the North Central Conference, an invitation that was given to the Patriots earlier this year.

Considering that Jay County did not immediately accept the invitation to the NCC like McCutcheon, Lafayette Jefferson and Lafayette Harrison did – and the huge jump in travel costs and drop in attendance due to distance between schools that come with it – highly suggests that the Patriots will join the ACAC.

But no one will know for sure until the vote, because everyone is treating the subject like the Manhattan Project.

If Jay County does go to the ACAC, it brings up a puzzling question. The talk over the past few years has been the dominance of Class 4A Leo over the smaller schools in the ACAC. Yet in the most recent enrollment numbers released by the IHSAA, Jay County has nearly 200 more students than Leo (1,113 to 932).

The Northeast Hoosier Conference is also dealing with realignment talk. In a statement released Thursday that stated the obvious to anyone following the issue, East Allen County Schools said, “In analyzing many different factors, disparity among schools in terms of enrollment continues to grow. As a result of these discussions, principals and athletic directors will be considering future conference membership affiliations.”

While it sounds like it is important, the news release included no real information. No surprise considering how tight-lipped everyone is regarding the subject.

Several other schools face decisions over the next few years. All indications are that Homestead and Carroll will likely exit the NHC in the near future, with numerous schools being looked at to fill the two slots.

So what happens with Homestead and Carroll? The ideal situation appears to be the Summit Athletic Conference, which is down to eight schools after the closure of Elmhurst and Harding. But there are a few snags to that marriage, beginning with the fact that in regard to football, most SAC schools enjoy the current two non-conference dates on their schedules. That opportunity has given traditional powers such as Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers and Snider the opportunity to go up against some of the top in-state and out-of-state programs in the Midwest.

Another problem could be the “split-gate” revenue model that the SAC utilizes. Currently, SAC schools split the gate revenue between both home and visiting schools for events, something most conferences, including the NHC, do not do.

Only the schools involved know the potential financial impact of going from a full-gate to split-gate model, but the belief is that it is considerable enough to give pause to any movement.

There are numerous scenarios of what could happen over the next 12-18 months in the area regarding conference realignment.

What about Concordia Lutheran, which has at times flirted with leaving the SAC over the years?

What about Huntington North? Would it be interested in leaving the financial pit that is the NCC travel budget and play in a league with teams closer to home?

Could Angola be a better fit in the NHC than the Northeast Corner Conference?

All very good questions, and questions that will be answered in due time.

Just do not expect anyone in authority at the schools to talk about it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Justin Kenny at nssports@news-sentinel.com.