Corn Belt standing pat

RANTOUL — The eight-school Corn Belt Conference should stay intact for the foreseeable future, with no immediate plans to expand.

The Corn Belt principals and athletic directors are scheduled to hold a joint meeting May 2 in Bloomington but don't expect any new schools to be invited into the league that stretches from Rantoul to Eureka, Rantoul High School Principal Todd Wilson said Wednesday.

"We're not looking at expanding any time in the near future," Wilson said. "The two deciding factors are geography and competitive balance."

Wilson said the conference had a subcommittee look at the issue, which arose in March when four schools — Streator, Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central, Lincoln and Peoria Notre Dame — sent letters of interest to the conference.

The subcommittee met in early April and decided not to proceed with making the Corn Belt a 12-school league.

Geography is already an issue in the league, with Rantoul having to make long trips to northern members Eureka and Pontiac.

Those two schools are the longest trips the Eagles face, and if the four other schools were added, travel would become even more lengthy.

Lincoln is roughly 70 miles from Rantoul, and Streator, Peoria Notre Dame and Chillicothe IVC are all more than 90 miles away.

"It's not doable. It's just not," Wilson said. "A lot of people, when they think about conferences, they think about football first, and if you think about the Friday night game, we can make arrangements to get over there on a Friday night, but then you've got to think about the girls' volleyball team that plays on Tuesday and Thursdays, and putting them on a bus for two hours, one way, on a school night and having them come back."

With the uncertainty of state funding in regards to transportation, creating a conference that would stretch as far east as Rantoul to as far west as Peoria and as far north as Streator doesn't seem right, Wilson said.

"I joked with the other principals that if we went any farther out, we'd have to call ourselves the Mapquest Conference instead of the Corn Belt Conference," he said. "Geography is definitely one thing that we look at, but we've got a really good thing going in the Corn Belt other than athletics. We have our principals meetings and we talk about the athletic things, but we have academic discussions as well."

Wilson said the conference just conducted an art show that involved all the schools while the conference rotates academic subjects that receive professional development every year.

"That's one of the things that we really like as principals with the conference is all the other things we do besides just sports," Wilson said. "Looking to bring people into the conference, when I talk about the right fit, we want people that are willing to do that as well, and we want people who have a good reputation."

So for at least the next few years, Rantoul still will find itself conference partners with Mahomet-Seymour, Normal U-High, Bloomington Central Catholic, Pontiac, Eureka, Stanford Olympia and Prairie Central.

"We're staying put for a while," Wilson said. "It's kind of a consensus right now. Everybody's been heard, and we all feel comfortable with the decision that was made."

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