WEBSTER CITY - The 88-year-old North Central Conference is one step away from losing one of its 10 members. But will that be the end of the defections?
Maybe. And maybe not.
Superintendents from the North Iowa Conference unanimously approved to add current NCC member Bishop Garrigan and North Union to the league's roster on Nov. 26. All that is left is a two-thirds approval from the school boards of the eight current NIC members - Belmond-Klemme, Forest City, Garner-Hayfield, Lake Mills, Mason City Newman, North Iowa, Osage and West Hancock - and those votes are expected to take place this month.
Pending approval, which appears to be likely, Garrigan and North Union would join the NIC in the fall of 2014.
Representatives from Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield - two more long time NCC members - met with NIC officials last Wednesday for an exploratory meeting on the possibility of jumping to the northern conference. Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver confirmed the meeting took place and said his school board voted in favor of applying to the NIC Monday night.
"I think it's fair to say we're having serious discussions on if that's best for our district or not," Toliver said. "And I think it's fair to say there is interest from both parties (Eagle Grove and the NIC) to see if this is something that can happen."
Eagle Grove's enrollment of 179 in grades 9-11 puts it ninth in the NCC's hierarchy behind only Bishop Garrigan (132), and Toliver says that plays a factor in the school district possibly looking at the NIC as a viable option. He also says declining success in recent years has forced Eagle Grove to consider leaving the conference it has called home for decades.
"We have a hard time competing in (the NCC)," Toliver said. "Year in and year out, we're at the bottom of the standings in conference sports and when we get into conference play, like in basketball, you get 21 games and 18 of those are against schools that are twice as big as us.
"We believe we can be more competitive in (the NIC)."
The expansion of the NIC could also include the schools from the Corn Bowl Conference - West Fork, Riceville, North Butler, Northwood-Kensett, Central Springs, Rockford, Nashua-Plainfield and St. Ansgar - to form a super conference. It's in that scenario where Toliver thinks Eagle Grove and potentially Clarion-Goldfield could make the jump.
"(NIC officials) told us at the meeting that the hope is to go to a super conference with 18 to 20 schools and have east and west divisions if they can," Toliver said. "The North Iowa has interest in adding Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield if they go to a super conference plan. And if they go that way then Eagle Grove has serious interest as well."
Toliver said that Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield officials have not met independently from the NIC, but the theory that the two schools are a joint package is realistic.
"I want to honestly say yes to that. If they're going to send invites, it fits a lot better to invite two (schools) instead of one," he said. "But our decision will be independent of Clarion's decision. There's never been a meeting."
Toliver never mentioned the potential increase in travel in the NIC. Eagle Grove currently averages 71 miles roundtrip to visit an NCC opponent; that figure would skyrocket to 119 in the NIC.
Clarion-Goldfield's road trips would increase from 70 to 94 miles on average.
Webster City Superintendent Mike Sherwood told his school board Monday night that "things have moved rather quickly" with regards to conference realignment, and that officials from the NCC will meet on Friday to discuss their options.
WCHS Athletic Director Bob Howard says that the latest moves could have a ripple effect throughout the conference. The NCC would still be viable if it lost just Garrigan, but the thought of losing Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield would put the remaining seven schools in a precarious position.
"This puts you in a tenuous situation on several fronts and one of them is several dominos have to fall for this to happen, but how long do we wait for those dominos to fall?" Howard said. "A seven-team conference, if (Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield) would go, that's a tough scheduling deal. If all seven will stick, it can certainly be done. The risk is when Eagle Grove and Clarion go, are the remaining seven going to stand tough?"
In the past, Iowa Falls-Alden has been courted by the North Iowa Cedar League.
Sherwood admitted that anything less than seven NCC members would likely mean the league would cease to exist.
"Seven is workable, but a stretch," Sherwood told the Webster City school board. "Six is difficult."
If the switches happend to the NCC, St.?Edmond Athletic Director Joe Shanks says St. Edmond will stay put.
"The St. Edmond administration and coaches are committed to the conference (NCC),'' Shanks said. "It would make us the smallest school in a seven team conference, but it helps us in tournaments.
"All you got to do is look in our gym and see the banners."
With the changing numbers in some schools, change was bound to happen.
"We have a strong conference right now, but all things are bound to change,''?Shanks said. "People enjoy the conference. The fans and the kids get along and the sportsmanship is great.''
The Gaels, who entered the NCC in 1992 with Bishop Garrigan, have developed a strong rival on the sporting scene.
"Garrigan has been a long time rival, and I understand why they want to leave,'' Shanks said. "The size of their school is very comparable to the conference (NIC).
"Clarion caught us a little off guard, for being a decent sized school. They have some competitive issues.''
The shake up will take place over the next couple of months, so the make up of the NCC is up in the air.
"I can't say how it'll end up,'' Shanks said. "But everyone has to do what's good for the coaches, their school and their fan base.''