Mom’s touch needed when it comes to conferences

Trying to please everyone is an act only a mom can pull off, and every now and then, even she fails.

How is it possible to dress, feed, clean and extinguish fights between four children (and sometimes a husband) in a matter of 20 minutes? Oh, come on, we’ve all seen mom work her magic in the waning moments before school starts. If only we could find out where she’s hiding that magic wand.

The All-American Conference and commissioner Rick King sure wouldn’t mind getting their hands on that scepter. Or, maybe it’s too late.

Seven schools officially left the conference last week to form their own league with South Range, to be called the NorthEast 8. It’s a name that lacks originality, if you ask me. Why not steal a movie name like “The Hateful Eight” or “Eight Men Out.” That’s a conference I’d want to join.

Anyway, the seven schools — Girard, Hubbard, Jefferson, Lakeview, Niles, Poland and Struthers — currently make up the White Tier of the AAC (along with Ashtabula Edgewood). That will remain the case until the 2018 football season, when the NE8 (yes, it already has a neat little acronym) begins its first season. Their departures could very well result in the disbandment of the AAC, a 21-team league that has been in place for 10 years.

The AAC has three tiers (Red, big schools; White, medium schools; Blue, small schools) in all sports but football, which has four. And let’s face it, leagues are put together based on football, which is king in northeast Ohio, and that’s where the problems surfaced in the AAC.

The issue the White Tier teams faced was the discrepancy between male enrollment figures. Howland and Canfield, which were to be moved down to the White Tier starting in 2019, would have been the largest schools in the tier with 343 and 323 males, respectively, according to OHSAA.org, while Girard would have been the smallest at 199 — a difference of 144 students. Lakeview (210), Edgewood (214), Jefferson (219) and Struthers (229) all have nearly 100 fewer males in their schools. That’s a drastic inequality.

Considering White Tier teams must play two “crossover games” against Red Tier teams as part of the conference guidelines, that just makes for too difficult of a schedule. But the thing is, that’s why the conference was created, according to King.

“There are two objectives in high school sports,” King said. “Are you banking everything on winning a conference championship, or do you want to go as far as you can in the tournament? The AAC was designed to help people get ready for tournament play, and that’s one key point to those (teams leaving). With eight teams, seven league games for football, 14 for basketball, it’s going to be tough for them to play the level of competition that we had.”

He has a point. Scheduling non-conference opponents is difficult in football. ADs struggle to find a team that’s 1. consistently up to par, thus leading to more computer points; 2. isn’t too good that the games aren’t competitive; and 3. is close enough that both teams are willing to make an agreement.

A school like Niles (Division III in football) is now in a league made up of teams in Divisions IV and V, which is going to make computer points hard to come by in the conference. And South Range, which is D-V in football and has 152 boys, must be rather confident in its athletics programs considering every school besides Girard has more than 200 males.

The fact is that there is no such thing as a perfect conference. Leagues keep going through phases. As a colleague of mine pointed out, they all used to be made up of eight schools back in the day, and then the mega-conferences started to form (ie. ACC) to help with scheduling and the aforementioned computer points.

Yet, problems always surface, just like they did in the AAC, which will probably have to fold unless it picks up more teams — which is a story for another day (will JFK, Ursuline and Mooney ever be “allowed” to join one?) Anyway, similar issues of enrollment size or computer points will eventually arise in the NE8, and over time, it too will become defunct.

Leagues come and go just like kids getting ready for school, and not even mom can figure out how to fix that problem.

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