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Revamped Northern Illinois Big 12 brings revised football format, scheduling issues

Heading into its fifth year of competition, the Northern Illinois Big 12 already has a new look.

With Dixon (Big Northern) and Streator (Interstate Eight) departing the league in the 2014-15 school year, the conference is down to just 10 teams.

There will still be East and West divisions, with Rochelle moving to the West, leaving DeKalb, Kaneland, Morris, Sycamore and Yorkville in the East.

For now, the league doesn't have the number teams it would like, but the plan is to eventually add two more schools to get back to 12.

"We've got to find that right fit of size, and right now our conference covers a lot of ground. Travel is always a concern when somebody comes in," Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick said. "We've got to consider travel, size of school. Somebody really small's not going to want to come in. Nobody really wants someone ginormous either.

"The area we cover, we don't have a lot of options. We're trying to keep our options open and see what happens. We're optimistic, but we also know we're going to move forward if we don't [add teams]."

The new setup makes things more complicated when it comes to football. In the old six-team division setup, each school played five division games, two crossover games and two nonconference contests.

Now, the first three weeks of the schedule will feature nonconference games, while weeks 4 through 8, teams will play their four division games with a conference crossover mixed in and Week 9 will be a crossover for every team, Carrick said.

The conference could have gone with one 10-team league, where each team would play the other nine programs once, but felt divisions was the better option.

"There were a couple of rationales behind it. We're still looking for teams and expansion. We wanted to show people that we're willing to work with what we've got and keep that divisional system in place as long as we can," Carrick said. "Another thing is, footballwise with the way our league is, we thought there may be a possibility that we could get more teams playoff-eligible.

"If you have a successful nonconference season, if you can win your three nonconferences and you can win two conference games that would make you eligible for an at-large bid."

DeKalb football coach Matt Weckler was part of a 10-team format when he was the coach at Belvidere of the NIC-10 Conference. He said he would like to play in a bigger conference with at least seven programs, but said going with 10 teams had its drawbacks as well – playing the same teams over and over, schools never saw anything new.

One drawback Weckler mentioned in terms of going with five teams is finding nonconference opponents.

The Barbs will play Vernon Hills, McHenry and West Chicago in nonconference games this season, but said Vernon Hills will be off the schedule next season, and Weckler said the school has had trouble replacing the Cougars for 2015.

"One, you've got to match your open date with another team," Weckler said. "Plus, everyone's trying to get those five wins to get in the playoffs. People are careful who they want to play."

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