FRANKFORT — The ever-changing Northern Michigan Football Conference faces lineup revamps each of the next two seasons.
The league already added Ogemaw Heights and Sault Ste. Marie for the 2020 season, and recently brought on Tawas, Lincoln Alcona and Rogers City for the 2021 campaign.
Additionally, Inland Lakes dropped out, opting to join much of its Ski Valley Conference kin in eight-player football.
“The whole purpose of this league is to make sure everyone has games,” Frankfort athletic director and NMFC president Dave Jackson said. “There are some downsides to it as well. Trying to balance those things is difficult.”
Oscoda also applied for league membership, but some hurdles remain before the Owls could join as well in 2021.
Former NMFC members Gaylord St. Mary, Suttons Bay, Central Lake, Onekama, Inland Lakes, Newberry and Mesick all chose eight-player football for their programs in recent years, forcing the conference to add farther flung schools in order to maintain numbers in its three divisions and ensure teams a set schedule.
“I keep thinking the eight-man football thing is going to calm down,” Jackson said, “and it never does.”
Tawas adds to the Legends Division, the NMFC’s biggest schools by enrollment. Alcona and Rogers City (and possibly Oscoda) slide into the Legacy Division, which hosts the conference’s smallest schools.
Frankfort moves from the Leaders Division into Legacy for the 2020 season to replace Inland Lakes.
Only once did the NMFC sport the same lineup in back-to-back years, with the same 13 teams the first two seasons of its existence in 2014 and 2015.
That original baker’s dozen made up the majority of football schools from the Lake Michigan and Northwest conferences.
Big changes came in 2016, with the league adding nine teams — Onekama, Mancelona, Mesick, St. Ignace, Gaylord St. Mary, Johannesburg-Lewiston, Central Lake, Inland Lakes and Cheboygan — and splitting into three divisions. Suttons Bay and Benzie Central both ended their seasons after two games because of injuries.
The 2017 season saw Mesick, Suttons Bay and Onekama leave, all opting to play eight-player football.
That left the Leaders Division with only four teams (Glen Lake, Frankfort, Charlevoix and Mancelona). Benzie Central returned to fielding a team.
Newberry joined in 2018, leaving the league largely the same as before, with Elk Rapids moving down into the Leaders Division to give it five members.
Gaylord St. Mary and Newberry left in 2019, each going to eight-player.