(4-25-18) This past school year Illinois, Indiana and Ohio high school athletic conferences has seen numerous ‘shake-ups’ in membership.

Football scheduling, competitiveness or lack of, enrollment (gaining enrollment, losing enrollment), mega-conferences losing a large number of members, mega-conferences getting bigger, public vs. private, cut down on travel…plus other issues.

Some recent examples, schools have incorporated ways to eliminate a member who doesn’t want to leave, the remaining members use the back door and leave the conference to form a ‘new’ conference leaving a member(s) out. Recently is a ‘blow-up’ of a conference a school accepted an invitation to join a new conference, only to do a 360 and drop out and joining a better fit, before ever playing in the that conference.

Some states like Wisconsin (and several others) have the final say in conference membership. At yesterday’s Board of Controls meeting conference alignments was one of the main items discussed.

Changes on how the matter is handled in Wisconsin in the future were front and center during the meeting:

In other action related to conference realignment, the Board approved an executive staff recommendation to place a one-year moratorium on conference realignment with the exception of requests that receive the complete support of all schools impacted by the plan. During the suspension of requests, the membership and executive staff will collaborate on a different and viable process to address school placement in conferences.

Jerry Snodgrass of the OHSAA gives us some input on how he views the conference membership issues:

Most changes occur as a result of football scheduling. In Ohio, since it is the ONLY sport in which all teams are not automatically qualified for post-season tournament play, and the fact that qualification is basically based upon strength of schedule – albeit computer points – there is added pressure to have flexibility in football scheduling.

Ohio, like Illinois, is one of the largest in terms of membership. As a result, dictating or even having a controlling influence on league alignments would be extremely difficult. Ohio also maintains that all regular season contest are contests between schools and therefore considered ‘their’ contests as opposed to tournament contests that are considered to be “our” contests. As a result, schools have their own freedom to schedule who they wish – which obviously drives league affiliation.

One issue that has come up more frequently is any breach of contract that occurs as a result of league/conference breakup. We have a bylaw that addresses this and in essence being a voluntary member of the association also requires teams/schools to honor contracts they have entered into with other schools. So, when league does break up, any and all contracts between opponents already scheduled are expected and required to be followed.

In Indiana Bobby Cox, IHSAA Commissioner, shares his thoughts on the topic:

Since the IHSAA has no input on conference alignments for our member schools in Indiana, my contribution may be negligible. My observations surrounding conference changes and realignments seem to center on competitive balance within conferences as schools seek to find better harmony within new conferences. Inevitably with change, there will be some hurt feelings and allegiances. Additionally, I see after a couple of years, schools settle into their new conferences and everyone moves on. Finally, since conference standings have no bearing on IHSAA tournament series participation, the change of conferences by our schools has had no effect on post season play.

The NFHS has also stayed away from making recommendations on the subject.

Just like the transfer issue facing many state associations, most states have different ways of handling the conference membership problems in their states. Besides Wisconsin, North Carolina has one of the more drastic changes to conferences, which includes the NCHSAA realigning conferences every couple of years.

One of the biggest issues facing conference stability is the lack of communication between administrations on conference concerns or sudden departures. SSN has always provided a simple way, the High School Athletic Conference Barometer, for conferences to communicate on a yearly basis. Being proactive with what is happening can often help stop future problems.

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