Dollars and sense

Local leagues save schools big money

Football and basketball are the lifeblood of a school athletics program.

So is scheduling. When athletic directors have teams in their conference that they play each season, it helps as well. It’s much better than being an independent.

“There’s no fish out there to find an opponent,” Warren G. Harding athletic director Bill Nicholson said. “It’s very difficult. You’ve got to go find other schools that are independents or find a team that’s in a seven-team conference and has a bye week. Or else, you call Canada, Washington, D.C., or over in Pennsylvania.

“Imagine trying to find a Week 10 game. That’s usually a rival game. If you’re an independent, it’s very difficult.”

WGH used to be in the Lake Erie League, playing as far away as Lorain. That changed a couple of years ago when the Raiders’ programs moved to the All-American Conference.

Travel costs shrank also for Austintown Fitch and Boardman, which got away from the Stark County-based Federal League.

Local teams playing one another also means more money for the respective gates.

“Imagine taking 11 band buses on an away game and you have to drive to Austintown versus Lorain,” Nicholson said. “Just the transportation costs are minimal compared to being in a conference far away where you have to travel over an hour and a half to a game.”

The dollars and sense of being in a league is evident. It brings in gates to all sports.

Lakeview joins the Northeast 8 Conference in 2018 with Niles, Girard, Hubbard, Poland, Struthers, South Range and Jefferson, leaving the AAC. Bulldogs athletic director Ron DeJulio Jr. said good gates are expected from this grouping.

“We’ll all bring decent crowds to boys games,” he said. “We’re going to bring crowds to girls soccer, track and field.”

These eight teams are ideal as far as regionalization.

“You do want to create some conference structure that’s regional,” said LaBrae Superintendent A.J. Calderone, formerly the football coach at Grand Valley. “Therefore, it creates great rivalries. Coaches and players love that. From a coaching standpoint, that’s wonderful.

“Those rivalries can be counted on from year to year.”

Keeping those built-in schedules from a conference or league helps keep the athletic department costs down, especially when those affiliations are local.

“When you’re in a conference and you’re developing those affiliations with rivals and nurturing them, it typically creates great opportunities to fund your athletic programs and pay for sports that are non-revenue generating,” Calderone said. “That’s an important part as well.”

Being an independent or playing conference opponents from outside your area usually doesn’t bring in bigger gates.

“The big thing to look at is which gates do we do best in basketball and football,” said Weathersfield Schools Superintendent Damon Dohar. “Girls and boys basketball, and football.

“That’s an important piece of the pie.”

Gates are critical for area athletic departments, and being part of a local conference helps that cause.

“There’s no TV money in high school,” Dohar joked. “That big cable deal hasn’t come through.”