Major changes appear to be in store for the Central Iowa Metro League.
Even though the powerhouse conference's future is clouded by uncertainty, Fort Dodge is expected to remain a vital piece of the puzzle, athletic and activities director Matt Elsbecker confirmed on Thursday.
''We're a member (of the CIML), and I don't anticipate that changing anytime soon,'' Elsbecker said. ''We will deal with the consequences of (defecting schools) when and if it becomes official. That won't compromise our status, though. We're here, and we want to continue to compete against the best central Iowa has to offer.''
Eleven athletic leaders from the 19-team conference met Wednesday at Valley High School in West Des Moines to discuss the ramifications of a newly-proposed league that would include current CIML schools Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Indianola, Des Moines East, Des Moines Roosevelt, Des Moines Lincoln, Des Moines Hoover and Des Moines North.
Marshalltown's administration is in the process of finalizing its decision, which would put the plan in motion. Elsbecker said a confirmation could come as early as Monday. Ottumwa and the five Des Moines metro schools are reportedly on board, with Marshalltown and Indianola still weighing their respective options.
If the new league comes to fruition, the 2014-15 academic year would be the last for the current CIML configuration. The official filing deadline for departing schools is Aug. 1.
What two divisions of the CIML could look like beginning in 2015-16, with current grade 9-11 enrollment and rank:
Johnston: 1,419 (8th)
Ames: 982 (28th)
Ankeny: 915 (34th)
Mason City: 890 (37th)
Fort Dodge: 838 (41st)
West Des Moines Valley: 2,036 (1st)
Southeast Polk: 1,511 (5th)
Waukee: 1,422 (7th)
West Des Moines Dowling: 1,130 (19th)
Ankeny Centennial: 977 (30th)
Urbandale: 928 (33rd)
In an updated form, the league would either be split into two divisions or stand as a single 11- or 12-team conference. The emergence of Norwalk, Dallas Center-Grimes and a second Waukee high school as large-class candidates may change the CIML's structure further down the road, which appeared to fuel Marshalltown's potential departure.
Bobcat football coach Aaron Shipley told Marshalltown's Times-Republican newspaper, ''We have known for a while that the league was looking at expansion. We wanted to get out in front of things and didn't want to be left without a home. I like that we are taking a proactive approach instead of sitting back and waiting.''
MHS athletic and activities director Craig Huegel believes breaking away from the CIML may provide a more realistic playing field for the Bobcats in the future.
''It doesn't mean we are lowering our expectations,'' Huegel said. ''I believe this will lead to more and more students who want to be involved in our activities, which is very important. We will still expect the best of our students. We will still have to work hard.''
Elsbecker said that, while other options may someday surface, Fort Dodge's best move for now is to hold steady.
''I really think that we have to dig deep as an athletic department and put the extra time and effort into the idea of participating with excellence,'' Elsbecker said. ''We have to collectively raise our level of expectations, from myself on down through the kids. The Johnstons and Waukees of the world represent where the future is going, and we want to be a part of that.
''I feel like Fort Dodge is a community on the move. We have done so much to promote progress here in recent years - I don't think it sends the right message to back away from the challenge of staying relevant in our conference. Our top priority, of course, will always be what's best for our student-athletes. In 2014, that means staying put.''
Fort Dodge has been a member of the CIML since 1992.