By EDDIE CARIFIO -
With Morris potentially leaving the Northern Illinois Big 12, the athletic directors of the three local schools in the conference are already starting to think about what the league may do.
Sycamore, DeKalb and Kaneland would be affected by Morris leaving for the Interstate Eight – which is still in its early stages. Barbs athletic director Nic Kearfott said he’s told his coaches and administration to keep an open mind about what possibilities exist, while Knights athletic director Peter Goff said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“My gut feeling is that Morris is going to take a serious look at the I-8,” Sycamore Athletic Director Chauncey Carrick said. “If they got a formal invitation, I would be surprised if they did not go. But that’s just my thought.”
The NIB 12 is split into two divisions – DeKalb, Sycamore, Kaneland, Morris and Yorkville in the east, and Geneseo, Ottawa, LaSalle-Peru, Sterling and Rochelle in the west. For football, the teams play each team in their division and two crossover games. The conference originally lived up to its name and had 12 teams, but Streator left for the I-8 before the 2014 season, which is when Dixon left for the Big Northern Conference.
Morris leaving would reduce the number of teams in the conference to nine, making scheduling even more difficult. Teams have had trouble scheduling Week 3 games – Sycamore had to play a team from Gary, Indiana last year and didn’t finalize their 2017 schedule until a few weeks ago. Needing to a fill a late-season slot in the schedule with a nonconference would be even more difficult.
Kearfott was part of a conference with an odd number of teams when he was at Woodstock North. Johnsburg left the Fox Valley Conference for the Big Northern Conference, leaving the Fox Valley with an odd number of teams, something he said made things very difficult. Kearfott said scheduling was troublesome when that happened, and Carrick said avoiding a conference with an odd number of teams is very important.
“In my opinion, the No. 1 priority is finding an even number,” Carrick said. “An odd number makes life miserable. So it’s a matter of one, finding an even number, and two, looking to expand. I don’t think we’re looking to lower the number.”
Goff said Morris athletic director Jeff Johnson has been up front about keeping the conference informed about what’s going on, and losing the team is a blow for the NIB 12.
“I’d hate to see Morris go,” Goff said. “I like Jeff, and I like the competition they bring. Their softball team was No. 1 in the state for a little while earlier this season, their football team is always good. It’s tough to find football games, and that’s what it will probably come down to.”
Like Carrick, Kearfott said he feels that Morris may not be back when the 2018-19 school year begins.
“Obviously, it’s been a rumor for a while, but once Morris got the initial invitation they were very up front with us in letting us know what’s going on with the process,” Kearfott said. “All signs probably point to they’re leaving. We need to look at options and avenues so we can grow and be a 10-team conference. I’ve been in a conference with an odd number, and it’s hard to schedule competitions with an odd number of teams.”
Carrick said there’s no plan in place now. Among the options are adding a team to replace Morris, or even adding three more to get back to 12. One more team can leave the conference to get down to eight teams, or the conference can stay at nine. There’s also the possibility that the conference could dissolve or merge with another.
Kearfott said that whatever ends up happening, one of the priorities is keep the NIB 12 together – although everything has to be on the table.
“I told the coaches and my administration that we need to be open-minded to all options,” Kearfott said. “Our conference will be meeting in the first week of May, and I’m sure that’s going to be the discussion at our AD meetings. But we need to keep all options on the table, whether that’s adding one team, or three, or one of us leaving.
“There’s also options of schools leaving for other conferences or multiple conferences joining and combining. We need to start exploring options, and I’m at least keeping an open mind and keeping in mind what’s best for our school and out athletic programs, and hope we can keep the conference together and not deal with the scheduling issue that comes with an odd number of teams.”
Morris’ Johnson and the administration of the school told the NIB 12 of their intentions about two weeks ago, Carrick said. Morris administrators have stressed that nothing is final yet, and in fact, the process is still in the early stages and just exploratory at this point.
“It’s definitely still in the infant stages,” Morris principal Kelly Hussey said. “We got the invitation and took it to the school board. Even if, after doing all our research, we decide to accept the offer, we are not sure that the I-8 will accept us. There may be another school that they sent an invitation to that fits what they want better than we do. Or, they might decide in the end to keep their numbers at 11 schools.”
The I-8 is looking for a team to replace Seneca, which will join the Sangamon Conference for football and wrestling, and the Tri-County Conference for all other sports.