The Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference began competition during the 2010-11 school year.
Four years later, the league’s landscape will look a lot different. Dixon and Streator, both members of the West Division, are heading to different leagues after this school year. Dixon will join the Big Northern Conference, while Streator accepted an invitation to join to the Interstate Eight back in February.
Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick told the Daily Chronicle the league has talked to a number of schools, but that everyone seems to be happy where they’re at right now.
Carrick said the league hasn’t set a limit on its number of teams. It’s more concerned with finding community-based programs similar to the conference’s 10 schools still committed to the NI Big 12. He did say the conference wants to stay at an even number.
“We would like to get as many teams as we can that are like our current membership. I don’t think there’s a number on that. It could be 12, it could be 20,” Carrick said. “We’re not going to limit that. We like schools that are like us. We like schools that are like a Sycamore, a DeKalb, a Rochelle. Things that we have in common.
“Schools that are based in communities. Sometimes we’re the focal point of those communities. We’re not just a high school, we’re a community organization so to speak.”
The NI Big 12 isn’t the only conference that’s dealt with change recently. For example, the Suburban Christian Conference recently lost seven of its schools to the Metro Suburban, and the remaining five members are joining the Chicago Catholic League in football and boys soccer.
Carrick said that it’s a long shot for the NI Big 12 to expand by the time Dixon and Streator are gone. If the conference is not able to find two new schools by then, it would be aligned with two five-team divisions. Rochelle would move to the West Division with old NCIC rivals Geneseo, LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa and Sterling while DeKalb, Kaneland, Morris, Sycamore and Yorkville remained in the East.
When it comes to football, Carrick said the league has asked the IHSA for a temporary waiver asking for the champion of each division to be awarded an automatic bid to the state playoffs (champions of leagues with six teams get the automatic bid). In reality, the champion of each division should have no problem qualifying based on the strength of the conference’s programs in recent years.
“The automatic bid thing’s really not that big of deal anymore, to be honest,” Sycamore football coach Joe Ryan said. “You’re fortunate enough to win our five-team league, you’re going to have plenty of wins to get into the playoffs.”
Carrick said one reason for aligning into two divisions, rather than having one 10-team conference like the NIC-10 or Northeastern Athletic, is giving the conference a chance for more playoff teams. Instead of nine games within the conference with one 10-team conference, the five-team divisions will still allow for nonconference games.
“From a scheduling standpoint [a 10-team league is] the easiest way to go,” Ryan said. “But going the easiest way isn’t always the best way for the conference.”
Each team will play two crossovers, and will have to find three nonconference teams.
Carrick said that while the league is looking to expand, the format that will be in place for 2014-15 could be a long-term solution as well.
“I know that the schools that we currently have like being together,” he said. “We’re going to make the best we can out of it and move on.”