AAC Red Tier independent in football, contemplate future

There are plenty of unknowns about the All-American Conference.

One certainty is the AAC Blue Tier teams of Newton Falls, Champion, Liberty, Campbell, Crestview, LaBrae and Brookfield leave at the end of this school year for the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference as a separate tier from the current MVAC teams.

That leaves Warren G. Harding, Howland, Austintown Fitch, Boardman and Canfield, the current Red Tier.

AAC Commissioner Rick King said the Blue Tier teams will have a conference champion in every sport in the final season. The Red Tier five will have conference champions in all sports except football.

Where does that leave those five schools, the largest ones in the area, after the 2019-20 season?

“Obviously, five teams isn’t the greatest scenario for a league,” King said. “The reality of the situation is we have five teams in our area, five schools that are size-wise much larger than the others in the area. That has caused most of the problems we have in scheduling from a league structure right now.”

There is plenty of non-conference scheduling with only five teams.

The last thing King wants to see is the remaining AAC teams traveling to places like Akron, Cleveland or farther for games.

Can’t the five find games closer to home?

King said he’s been in talks with the new Steel Valley Conference of Chaney, East, Ursuline and Cardinal Mooney to help alleviate some of those problems. It’s not a merger, but a way to help both factions in scheduling.

“In all honesty, right now, we’re at the table talking about whether you want to call it a partnership in scheduling,” King said. “We’re going to do the best we can.

“Whether this goes to the next level, that’s up to our superintendents. From an athletic director standpoint and my standpoint, we’re going to do the best we can to schedule as many local people as possible. I’ve been in contact on a constant basis with (Chief of Physical Development and Athletics) Rick Shepas, representing Youngstown City Schools.”

Shepas said keeping games in the Mahoning Valley and generating local interest is first and foremost in his mind as far as the Steel Valley goes.

“I know one thing for sure, there are a lot of scheduling that is taking place, regardless if they become conference games or not at this point,” he said. “I cannot speak on behalf of the remaining AAC teams, yet. I’m going to be attending a meeting with them.

“We have had discussion of future schedules for all the sports, football as well as the Olympic sports. That’s the goal in the outset. We’re going to have to see where it goes. Every school district has a particular interest they are serving.”

Chaney, which is adding sports like baseball, softball and volleyball, is a growing athletic program.

Chaney and East are comparable in size to the AAC Red Tier teams, while Ursuline and Mooney are both smaller in size, but usually schedule teams like Chaney, East and the remainder of the AAC top five.

How do the Steel Valley teams approach the AAC Red in years to come?

“All I will tell them to do is be patient,” Shepas said. “A lot of the schools, Fitch, Boardman and Harding, Mooney and Ursuline, are already playing each other. They already have scheduling agreements. I think everybody is hopeful about what could be done for scheduling. The conference parameters might take a little bit more time.

“I think we could find some common ground. I think we’ll continue to work toward that since I’ve been sitting in on the meetings. I’m very transparent and up front. I’m not afraid to have those tough conversations. I think they know what we’re communicating will be consistent. Ultimately, it’s the No. 1 goal we have, to put these teams together.”

The AAC would like to meet on common ground.

“I don’t know what is going to happen down the road,” King said. “We can tell you for sure the ADs and myself, we’re really committed to a partnership to the best we can to schedule everybody.”