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Column: NI Big 12 remains in holding pattern

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Kaneland and its Northern Illinois Big 12 brethren do not have a plan about how to replace departing Dixon in the conference.

Rather, they have plans, plural, albeit ones that are not yet ready to be put into action.

The 3-year-old NI Big 12 is a two-division, 12-team conference – at least for now. Dixon, one of the teams in the conference’s West Division, was accepted in May to join the Big Northern Conference, effective the 2014-15 school year.

The Northern Illinois Big 12 has been in talks with various potential replacements about conference membership but, so far, nothing has clicked. And it might not be that simple. Another NI Big 12 school, Streator, has reportedly flirted with leaving the conference during the past year, possibly for the Corn Belt Conference.

So going forward, the conference could add one or two new members to land back at 12 schools or, at least temporarily, face scheduling complications with 10 or 11 schools in the mix.

“If we’re in a 10-team conference, we’d look to partner with some other conference in developing some scheduled crossovers,” Kaneland principal Chip Hickman said. “The next three to 18 months, there’s some instability, not only within our conference, but within other conferences that are going to have a ripple effect, and what that looks like specifically, we’re not certain. We have contingency plans for everything.”

While ongoing movement involving the Upstate Eight and DuPage Valley conferences have commanded most of the recent attention around the Tri-Cities, there are other conferences in flux in northern Illinois that figure to more directly affect the Northern Illinois Big 12’s options, such as the Interstate Eight Conference.

Dwight recently departed the Interstate Eight, citing little in common with the conference’s growing members closer to the Chicago suburbs, such as Sandwich and Reed-Custer.

Until more dominoes fall, Hickman and his fellow NI Big 12 principals and athletic directors have been unable to act as decisively as they would like.

“There is a sense of urgency, and the unfortunate circumstance is we’re waiting on an element we have no control over,” Hickman said. “We are focusing on the things we do have control over and trying not to work off hypotheticals because there are so many variances to the possible conference solution that it’s hard to predict what that might look like in one, two and three years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were stages of evolution over time.”

Kaneland is part of the NI Big 12 East, which includes fellow ex-Western Sun Conference members DeKalb, Rochelle, Sycamore and Yorkville, plus Morris. Hickman said there has been some discussion about potentially reorganizing the conference’s divisional structure, but no decisions have been made, and he does not anticipate any adjustments that would have a major impact on Kaneland.

There still is plenty to be done to stabilize the conference’s future, but Hickman re-affirmed Kaneland’s commitment to finding an arrangement that works.

“We have a high degree of satisfaction with our conference,” Hickman said. “It’s a great match. We feel like we’re challenged competitively, we feel that there are comparable offerings in sports and participation from the schools within the conference is outstanding. We’re not looking to move.”

• Jay Schwab is a sports editor for Shaw Media. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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