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April proves difficult for AAC

The irony was amazing. In the Tribune Chronicle sports department we keep stacks of our sports sections, piled by year — each stack includes 365 (or 366 for leap year) different issues.

Each day we pull the bottom issue from each stack and put it on top of the next stack. It gives us an idea of what was going on in the sports world and what we were covering a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, etc.

When we pulled the older papers 10 days or so ago, among the headlines on the sports section front page were the following:

Thursday, April 27, 2017: “AAC to go to 3 tiers in 2019-20”

Thursday, April 26, 2018: “AAC going with 2 tiers”

Of course the day we pulled those papers from almost exactly one year and two years ago was the day Mahoning Valley sports fans found out that the schools in the Blue Tier of the All-American Conference were leaving the organization to join the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference.

Our headline on Thursday, April 25, 2019, on an inside page, said “Blue Tier schools leaving AAC for MVAC.” We followed up the next day with a longer story after we had a chance to talk to some of the people involved in the change.

Obviously, late April has not been a good time for the All-American Conference.

The league that opened with much fanfare as a large multi-tier conference for as many as 20 schools in northeast Ohio is close to extinction.

It’s White Tier left a couple of years ago to form the Northeast-8 Conference and with the Blue Tier now leaving, the only remaining schools will be Warren G. Harding, Howland, Austintown Fitch, Boardman and Canfield.

There are some out there — fans, members of the media, school officials — who are saying that they knew the All-American Conference format would not work. After all, the more institutions involved in such an endeavor, the easier it is for one of those entities to be upset about how an issue was handled, or for one of the schools to feel slighted in some way.

The AAC and the former 16-school ITCL both seem to have been part of a cycle. For years in the Mahoning Valley, eight schools was the largest number for high school conferences. It seemed to be the magic number, providing enough league games, while still allowing schools to schedule a good number of non-conference opponents.

But for whatever reasons, it was thought that the larger multi-tier leagues were the way to go and area school officials went willingly. But if you’ve noticed, the leagues that formed from the ITCL breakup and the departure from the AAC include eight teams ( there are only seven Blue Tier schools leaving the AAC for a separate division in the MVAC).

Will an eighth team be added? How will the MVAC handle the fact that beginning next school year it actually will have 15 schools. For now, we’ve been told, the two divisions (not tiers) will be treated as separate entities, but that doesn’t rule out cross-division competition in the future.

And what of the five remaining AAC schools? With Youngstown City Schools East and Chaney joining with Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline to revive the Steel Valley Conference, is there room for the AAC five? Only time will tell.

One thing is certain, change is inevitable. As pointed out in a series of stories the Tribune Chronicle sports staff wrote in the summer of 2017, the conference alignment in the Mahoning Valley rarely has been stable for more than a decade at a time.

Two main reasons for the constant change include a declining population overall in the Valley, which affects some school districts more than others, and open enrollment, which puts public schools on a level with private schools in an effort to attract more students.

Those two factors can change a school district’s enrollment — sometimes drastically — in either direction. Thus, two schools from the same league which may have been fairly even in enrollment five years or so ago, could have a huge difference now.

Whatever the reasons, it is certain that more changes are coming. And it seems likely they will be announced in late April.

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