CHAMPAIGN — Coming to a field or stadium sooner than expected: the revamped Big 12 Conference.
The expanding high school athletic league will have conference schedules in play in 20 of 21 sports when another school year starts in August.
Football is the only exception. League play in football will begin in 2015, although for that one season there will not be an equal number of games as current Big 12 members fulfill two-year contracts with non-conference opponents that were previously finalized.
“In every sport, from top to bottom, I’ve got to believe the Big 12 has to be one of most competitive conference in the state in 21 varsity sports,” Central athletic director John Woods said. “When you bring in four fantastic programs, four schools with great programs and great leadership, it will make everyone step up their games. There will be no bye week in the Big 12.”
Decatur schools Eisenhower and MacArthur will leave the Big 12 in June. Joining the league are Peoria Central, Peoria Manual, Peoria Notre Dame and Peoria Richwoods.
With Bloomington, Centennial, Central, Danville, Normal Community, Normal West and Urbana remaining, it will create an 11-team league.
Athletic directors have been formulating schedules for the various sports.
In softball, the league portion of the schedule will consist of 10 games as each school plays the other members in one game that will count in the standings.
Baseball, however, will feature a 15-game conference schedule.
Pending final approval, several sites have been picked for next year’s individual league championships.
One of the headliners is the cross-country meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, which is the course used for the state meet.
The Oct. 18 Big 12 cross-country meet would be held three weeks prior to state.
The transition is occurring much quicker than Big 12 administrators originally anticipated.
“The more we looked at our schedules, the better things looked for making the merger happen earlier,” Woods said. “It’s a natural fit for the Peoria schools to be in the Big 12 and, to a guy in that room, we all wanted make it happen pretty quickly.”
Football will be the final piece of the equation.
For the 2015 season, the Peoria schools will play nine conference games.
The other seven Big 12 members will have a six-game schedule as they honor commitments which are already in place.
For that year, Woods said, “the conference champion will be based on winning percentage.”
If one school ends 9-0 and another is 6-0, co-champions would be crowned.
However, Woods noted, “if one team is 8-1 and another is 5-1, the 8-1 team would team would have the better percentage.”
Starting with the 2016 football season, each Big 12 member will play nine conference football games, keeping longstanding rivals on their schedule while rotating which other schools they face every two years.
Softball will not be the only sport to determine a champion based on a single round-robin schedule.
That format will be used for boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer and volleyball.
To lessen the strain of traveling long distances on school nights, many Big 12 events will be set for Saturdays.
“I think in girls’ basketball, there might be one week night where one Peoria or Champaign or Danville school has to go to one or the other (on a week night),” Woods said. “The rest (of the long-distance games) for girls’ basketball will be played on Saturday.”
In other sports, if mid-week games are scheduled, there may be a backup solution.
“The two schools can reschedule to a Saturday if they wish,” Woods said. “Otherwise they will travel.”
Woods said there was discussion about holding a conference tournament in basketball, but the prevailing opinion was that coaches would prefer to schedule more non-conference games or enter shootouts.
“We’re not looking at doing that,” Woods said.
The Big 12 will also continue allowing schools — if they choose — to count games played in regular-season tournaments as a Big 12 Conference game.
Next year, for example, Champaign Central’s girls’ basketball team will play Peoria Central in a post-Thanksgiving tournament game at Springfield Southeast.
“We are leaning toward counting that as a conference game,” Woods said.
Centennial and Danville — which are traditionally paired against one another in a boys’ basketball tournament hosted by Lincoln in late November, include that a Big 12 game as well.
More details need to be hammered out, but Woods said it’s full speed ahead.
“The exciting part is the Peoria schools are in," he said, "and we’re making things happen in the fall."