BY DENNIS CHASE firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A proposal to merge the Lake Michigan and Northwest conferences in football will be addressed by representatives from the schools at a meeting next week.
The proposal, which includes current independent St. Francis, calls for two seven-team divisions, based on enrollment. The large school division would include Boyne City, Grayling, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, St. Francis, Kingsley and Benzie Central. The small school division would group Harbor Springs, East Jordan, Charlevoix, Suttons Bay, Glen Lake, Mesick and Frankfort.
If the proposal gains acceptance soon, it could go into effect as early as the 2014 season.
Asked if talks were serious, Elk Rapids athletic director Jim Standerfer said, "We've got enough things on our plates that we don't need to spend time on something if we're not willing to do it."
Schools would play the other six teams in the division, plus one crossover game that could protect a rivalry.
Frankfort, for instance, would like to keep playing county rival Benzie Central, Dave Jackson, secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Conference, said.
Boyne City, which has rivalries with East Jordan and Charlevoix, could use a crossover date for one, and a non-league date for the other, Standerfer said.
The potential merger would address enrollment disparities in the two leagues. In the Northwest, enrollments range from 517 at Benzie Central to 152 at Frankfort.
"Benzie Central and Kingsley are looking for bigger school competition," Jackson said.
The gap in the Lake Michigan ranges from Grayling at 494 to East Jordan at 302.
The downside to the proposal, officials said, is that would increase travel for several schools.
The upside, they said, is that schools would be playing league foes more equal in size.
"We're trying to meet everybody's needs," Jackson said.
Standerfer said school officials could think outside the box to alleviate travel concerns, too.
"Maybe we could find some time on Thirlby where Frankfort and Harbor could meet up," he said. "It would be a unique situation, more of a playoff atmosphere. Who ever had the home game could take the gate."
A big component of the proposal would be the inclusion of St. Francis, which was voted out of the Lake Michigan Conference after the 2011 season. The Gladiators dominated the league for years.
"We're going to play St. Francis every year whether this goes through or not," Standerfer said. "From our standpoint, we'd love to have St. Francis back in the league. With the current (set-up), there's a void there. This would make our league stronger."
Jackson said a merger could ease non-league scheduling problems for some schools. And, he said, there would be a plan in place to re-evaluate "the possibility for upward or downward mobility" in the divisions every two years.
The proposal school representatives have been discussing leaves weeks one and nine as non-league dates. But, Jackson said, Grayling officials have proposed weeks one and two for non-league dates.
Asked if there is unanimous support for the merger, Jackson responded, "I think there are some schools more into it than others."
"Right now we're in the talking stages, trying to find a way to benefit both leagues," Standerfer said.
Standerfer and Jackson admitted "it's crunch time" if the schools want this to happen in 2014.
"If we're going to do something for the 2014 season, it needs to happen now," Jackson said.
The Northwest Conference and the Lake Michigan Conference are discussing a football-only merger. Here’s what the league would look like with football enrollments.
Benzie Central 517
Elk Rapids 400
Boyne City 383*
TC St. Francis 291
Glen Lake 388*
Harbor Springs 304
East Jordan 302
Suttons Bay 253*