Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 11, 2013

Proposal to merge Lake Mich., Northwest moves forward

BY DENNIS CHASE dchase@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A proposal to merge the Lake Michigan and Northwest conferences in football continues to press forward.

Representatives — superintendents, principals and/or athletic directors — from all 14 schools involved met Monday at St. Francis to further discuss the idea. The upshot: Athletic directors were given the task of hammering out issues that were raised in order to put together a finished proposal for the schools to vote on, possibly later this month. The athletic directors plan to meet next Tuesday.

“We really feel our districts collaborate well,” Elk Rapids superintendent Steve Prissel said. “This is a nice, natural fit for this region. There are details that need to be worked out. It is not a definite we are going to do it, but we have come together and said there is merit to looking at this, and looking at our next steps to see if this is going to work or not.”

The proposal, which includes current independent St. Francis, would divide the mega-league into two seven-team divisions, based on enrollment and strength of program. The original draft grouped Boyne City, Grayling, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, St. Francis, Kingsley and Benzie Central in the large school division and Harbor Springs, East Jordan, Charlevoix, Suttons Bay, Glen Lake, Mesick and Frankfort in the small school division.

Dave Jackson, secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Conference, said that could change with Glen Lake and Kalkaska switching spots.

“Glen Lake wants to move up,” Jackson said.

Kalkaska, he added, has expressed a willingness to move down.

A policy that lays out parameters for determining possible changes in future divisional alignments will need to be agreed upon, Jackson said. Officials are talking about re-evaluating “upward or downward mobility” every two years.

A merger would address enrollment disparities in the two leagues and help in scheduling.

Athletic directors will need to reach a consensus in scheduling regarding non-league dates. Under the proposed format, each school would play the other six in the division, plus a mandated crossover game with a school from the other division. The remaining two dates could be filled by playing schools outside the league or in the other division.

The league is still debating whether to leave weeks one and two or one and nine open as non-league dates.

“That’s important because we want to be able to preserve the rivalries that are currently within each district,” Prissel said. “We want to be sensitive to that.”

Jackson, assistant athletic director at Frankfort, added that keeping natural rivalries is critical because “that turns into gate receipts for us.”

Prissel said travel, although a concern, is minimized because “we’re looking at just football.”

“If this was all sports, it would be a much larger issue,” he said. “But by just focusing on football it minimizes the concern a bit.”

Jackson said a straw vote was taken at Monday’s meeting to “see if everybody felt good about the proposal.”

“Most everybody seemed to feel comfortable with the idea,” he said. “It wasn’t totally unanimous, but it was a major majority. Now it’s about the details.

“We (athletic directors) want to have a finished proposal, one that we’re all on the same page with, so we can have a solid vote. We don’t want three of four different things floating around out there.”

Prissel called the proposed merger a “a big initiative.”

“To be at this point, we’re pretty proud of that,” he said. “We’ll take a look at the (final proposal), consider what’s best for everyone and we’ll come to a collective agreement.”

Prissel and Jackson reiterated that time is of the essence if the merger is to take place in 2014.

“Right now it’s holding up our scheduling,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to make commitments to teams and then call them two weeks later and say we can’t play you now. We have holes in our schedule for next year. We’re just kind of waiting to see if this goes or doesn’t go. But we can’t wait much longer.”

Jackson hoped school officials could be voting on the finished proposal by the end of the month.

Monday’s meeting left him optimistic.

“I walked away thinking it was doable,” he said.