Big 12 searches for conference subs
By MATT DANIELS and FRED KRONER
The Big 12 is getting smaller.
Decatur schools Eisenhower and MacArthur on Wednesday accepted invitations to join what will become a 10-member Central State Eight starting in the 2014-15 school year.
The decision did not catch other Big 12 administrators off guard.
“When we saw the (Decatur) board had voted to pursue it, we figured something would happen,” Danville athletic director B.J. Luke said.
League ADs will meet on Friday in East Peoria prior to the start of the Class 3A boys’ basketball state tournament.
“We’ll discuss our next move,” said Central AD John Woods, who will take over as Big 12 president for the 2013-14 school year.
The immediate ramification is that in football, the seven remaining Big 12 teams will have open dates weeks 1 and 2 as well as one more during the nine-game regular season.
“The location and size of our schools makes it difficult,” Woods said.
“It will be a scheduling nightmare, especially for football,” said Luke, who is also the Vikings’ head football coach.
Kankakee has been mentioned as one possible addition. At one time, Peoria schools were considered an option, but they’ve already joined the Western Big 6.
“We’ve lost them,” Luke said. “They are gone. We can’t go west. We have to start figuring things out and look for solutions.
“The one good thing is we have people with experience (in Big 12 leadership positions), and they might have good ideas.”
Any formal invitations to join the Big 12 will come from the league’s principals.
Centennial athletic director Brian Easter, the Big 12 president this year, said getting the Big 12 back to an even number of schools is the goal. Eight schools is an option but could present headaches when finding two nonconference opponents.
“For football purposes, 10 is ideal,” Easter said. “That’d be great, and to match the conference name, 12 would be ideal.”
Easter said the timing of the move by MacArthur and Eisenhower isn’t the issue.
“The problem is we have some big, competitive schools in our conference, so it’s difficult to draw just anybody in because they look and see Centennial, Normal Community, Bloomington and Danville, so they think we can’t compete with those guys,” Easter said.
“We’re a big-school conference in central Illinois.”
Urbana AD Greg Hall said the news of the Big 12 dwindling to seven teams is disheartening to him.
“I never saw this happening when I first started with the Urbana school district 17, 18 years ago,” Hall said. “If anything, I saw the conference getting bigger. Being down to seven now, it makes you worry. It makes me wonder what our future in the conference is. I’m not happy about it.”
The topic of who could possibly fill the void MacArthur and Eisenhower leave will most certainly take up a majority of Friday’s meeting.
“I hate to see the conference go down to seven teams,” Hall said. “We’ve had this topic in our minds and talked before about possible ways conference realignment can shake out. We’ve toyed with the idea of bringing other schools to the conference but haven’t been real aggressive just yet. I imagine that will change.”
Another potential Big 12 school could be one that’s not even built — or approved. A third public high school may be built in Normal.
“That’s being talked about in our district,” Normal West athletic director Stan Lewis said. “It could definitely happen in the future, probably before 2020.”
There simply aren’t many other choices within a close proximity. “If you look at geography and school enrollments, we’re pretty limited in this area,” Lewis said.
Eisenhower and MacArthur — league members for about 30 years — are the latest to leave the Big 12. Mattoon bolted for the Apollo last June. Rantoul, Stephen Decatur (now closed), Lincoln and Springfield are other high schools that were Big 12 members during the past three decades.