SYCAMORE – The effects of half of the member schools leaving the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference on Sycamore High School still are unclear, but there are several options for the remaining members of the conference, Principal Tim Carlson said. On Tuesday, Carlson updated the Sycamore School District 427 Board on the state of the conference.
Football is driving most of the decisions, he said. One of the big issues is that, in many communities, coaches have a pressure to win. A team needs to win five games to get into the playoffs. Carlson said the whole issue could be resolved if, as in other sports, every team gets into the football playoffs automatically.
The changing demographics of the region – with schools such as Sycamore and DeKalb growing, Yorkville growing faster and smaller schools such as Geneseo and Rochelle getting smaller – is one reason it is difficult to create perfect parity within a conference.
“It affects us on the fringe, with lots of school’s seeing growth,” Carlson said. “It’s never going to be perfect.”
The size differences between schools usually means it’s tougher for smaller schools to compete with the larger ones. A larger school will not only have a larger talent pool to draw from, it is more likely to have athletes who focus on only one sport and train for it year-round, Carlson said.
There also is a facilities difference between schools. While high schools at La Salle-Peru and Ottawa have populations comparable to Sycamore and DeKalb, they don’t have the same facilities. Carlson said the addition of a field house and larger weight room had improved Sycamore’s competitiveness in athletics.
The uncertainty began in December, when five of the conference’s schools – La Salle-Peru, Ottawa, Morris, Rochelle and Geneseo – sent a letter to conference president and Kaneland athletic director Peter Goff, informing the league that they intended to leave in spring 2019. Those schools had been invited to rebuild the Interstate-8 Conference along with Sandwich and Plano.
“I’m not bitter,” Carlson said about the schools leaving. “I get it. I was the small school once.”
Having sports teams that lose regularly can have an effect on the school. Carlson said he’s been told that if you want to have a good school year, have a good football season. It’s one of the reasons the Spartan Senate is playing with the idea of having monthly pep rallies even after football season ends.
The conference serves mostly for athletics and competitions, but Carlson said that sometimes, schools will cooperate for curriculum events or compete in academic competitions as well.
“The math team won their eighth consecutive conference championship,” Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick said. “That’s probably why we’re getting kicked out of the conference because we keep beating everybody in math.”
“If you don’t have the support in the communities to get those facilities,” Carrick said, it can be hard to compete, even with a large enrollment.
At a meeting in December, Carlson said, the principals from the conference schools met to discuss ways to even the playing field and allow the smaller schools a way to compete. He said ideas were floated, such as aligning divisions by enrollment and not requiring small schools to play big schools. He said at the end of the meeting, there was a plan to meet again in January.
“The next week we got letters saying ‘We’re out,’ ” Carlson said.
There are several options for the conference. The NIB 12 has sent an invitation to Burlington Central High School to join. It is a fast-growing school, Carlson said, and the community currently is having its discussions. Another option is to go with the five-team conference and have each team play the other twice, once at home and once away.
But because of the growth moving west from Chicago, and the cyclical nature of school enrollment, he said there is no perfect solution.
He noted that Sterling just landed two new factories, so its enrollment will go up. Rochelle could land a factory, and then it will be a big school again.
“Everything is cyclical. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet,” Carlson said.