By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — There was no getting around it — 2010 was an ugly year for the Lake Michigan Conference.
And it centered on football.
For some time, rumors had swirled about fellow league schools upset with playing Traverse City St. Francis. The Gladiators have built one of the top programs in the state with numerious state titles and a record 21 consecutive playoff appearances.
Talk of the frustration became public early in the year when representatives from the Lake Michigan Conference, as well as other surrounding leagues, met to discuss possible changes to football in northern Michigan.
Then in July, the superintendents of the league voted to remove the Gladiators from the conference in 2012, but only for football.
The schools that were perennially beaten by St. Francis on the gridiron finally scored a win against the Gladiators.
With the vote, St. Francis will stay a member of the league for all other sports. And for football, the Glads will play four LMC teams a year — Elk Rapids and Grayling on an annual basis and the others on a rotation.
"We'd still love to be in a conference where we're part of it in whole," St. Francis athletic director Tom Hardy said. "But, we are pleased for our kids to be in the league for the sports we are in."
No question, the decision had to be a difficult one. While other schools have been as dominant in other sports, those sports don't have a required amount of wins needed to reach the playoffs.
Playoffs and getting the required six wins to qualify for the playoffs have now become an even bigger point of contention for St. Francis as Hardy tries to fill the schedule as an independent.
"A lot of phone calls, a lot of possibilities," Hardy said. "We're working hard at it. Fortunately we're guaranteed a few games, but we have to find Weeks 1-2 and Weeks 7-9."
St. Francis' reputation as a state power makes scheduling difficult, as both bigger and smaller schools are hesitant to face the Gladiators.
When the superintendents booted St. Francis from the league, the Gladiators were riding a 55-game winning streak that dated back to 2001.
Perhaps the acted too quickly.
Elk Rapids ended the run at Thirlby Field on Sept. 11 with a 20-15 victory over the Glads. It was the first time the Elks had beaten St. Francis.
Boyne City and Grayling both played the Gladiators tough in narrow losses this fall. And the league title wasn't decided until the final week when the Elks beat the Ramblers 29-14 for their first LMC football title.
In 2011 St. Francis will return a number of key players from a 7-3 team and look to win one final league title before switching to an independent.