Peoria schools joining Big 12

What happened

The Big 12 moved closer to actually having the same amount of schools stated in the conference’s name. Peoria Central, Peoria Notre Dame, Peoria Manual and Peoria Richwoods are now members of the league that has seen drastic changes in the recent past. With the departure of Decatur Eisenhower and Decatur MacArthur after this school year (both are joining the Springfield-based Central State Eight Conference), the Big 12 was looking at the dilemma of only having seven schools. Now the league will have 11. Add one more in the coming years (all athletic directors will tell you even-numbered leagues are what they strive for) and the Big 12 has a chance to move forward as one of the premier large-school conferences south of Interstate 80.

What it means

Long bus rides for our area schools. That should be worth it. From Danville to Peoria is roughly 120 miles. From Champaign to Jim Thome’s birthplace is nearly 90 miles. Good practice for boys’ basketball teams from Central, Centennial, Danville and Urbana if they want to play at Carver Arena in mid-March at the state finals. Having widespread travel isn’t much of an issue when it comes to high school conferences these days. Look at the Corn Belt. Or the Heart of Illinois. Or plenty of other leagues across the state. Getting on a bus for a 90-minute trip one-way isn’t uncommon anymore in high school sports.

Why it’s a big deal

It helps out football scheduling purposes. The main reason for all sorts of conference realignment across the state is having a quality football schedule and getting the necessary five wins to become playoff-eligible. How the scheduling aspect will play out will get resolved, but it makes for the possibility of no nonconference games. The addition of the four Peoria schools gives much-needed credibility to the Big 12 from a basketball perspective. One can draw a line starting in Peoria, stretch it east across Interstate 74 and hit a number of teams that could make a deep postseason run. And it provides intriguing matchups that could make the casual sports fan venture out in person to see for themselves.

What they’re saying

“I think it’s great. Peoria has always been one of the great standards of basketball. A lot of people asked me, ‘Hey, would you want to go back to Manual? Why didn’t you try to pursue that?’ I had no interest whatsoever in going back to Manual. They’ve got a good coach there. That era was good for what it was, and now I’m glad to be a coach that gets to play against them. I was actually trying to set up a four-game series with Manual prior to getting information that they might be coming to our conference. I’m tickled. That’s competitive basketball. Anytime you can play Manual, Notre Dame and those schools, you know they’re going to get after you and they’re going to guard. That just prepares you later on, so I’m thrilled to go back and play against those guys.” — first-year Champaign Central coach Wayne McClain, who won three state titles with the Rams

What we're saying

As the Big 12 Conference prepares for its 90th anniversary, the league is returning to its roots.

Nearly two months after merger talks with four Peoria high schools surfaced, the final expansion details were put in place Monday night when the Peoria school board signed off on the move, adding Peoria Central, Peoria Manual and Peoria Richwoods. Peoria Notre Dame approved the measure last week.

The four schools will start competing in some sports in the Big 12 (cross-country, golf, tennis, swimming, track and field and wrestling) next school year.

It’s a classic example of “something old becoming new again.”

When the Big 12 Conference was chartered on Oct. 1, 1924, the membership included Peoria Central and Peoria Manual. At that time, Richwoods didn’t exist. Neither did two of the other members in what will become an 11-school conference (Centennial and Normal West).

Peoria schools have a tradition of success in the Big 12, winning or sharing five of the first six league crowns in boys’ basketball.

Before Peoria schools departed following the 1956-57 school year, they had a part in nine of 32 Big 12 basketball titles.

Football will be the last sport to become fully implemented in the revamped Big 12, which helps offset the losses of Decatur Eisenhower and Decatur MacArthur when the current school year ends. Look for football games to occur in the fall of 2016.

In advance of that, bracketed sports such as basketball, soccer and volleyball will start a single-game round-robin schedule during the 2015-16 school year.

Details for baseball and softball could be arranged in a January meeting if athletic directors.

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