The 2013 football season is far from over for many area teams, but there has already been a twist added to the 2014 season.
The Lake Michigan and Northwest conferences will officially combine for football only starting in the 2014 season, creating a 14-team league with two separate seven-team divisions.
The new league, which has yet to be named, will solve problems each conference had been facing according to East Jordan Athletic Director, Phyllis Olszewski.
“We were trying really hard to come up with a solution to a problem that is only unique to football,” Olszewski said. “Everybody else goes into playoffs clean. That’s not the case in football. We were truly two leagues that helped each other out.”
Scheduling conflicts, travel costs and playoff point positioning from the Michigan High School Athletic Association figure to all improve for area schools, but it didn’t all come without a lot of work over the past few months on everyone’s part.
“We worked really, really hard. I can’t even tell you the hours, days and months that went into trying to find a way to make this work,” Olszewski added. “It’s a quick turnaround, but we’ve been working on it for months. There was a true commitment on everyone’s behalf.”
The Northwest Conference, which features Frankfort, Maple City Glen Lake, Suttons Bay, Kingsley, Benzie Central and Mesick has schools ranging in enrollments from 517 at Benzie, to 152 at Frankfort.
Grayling current enrollment of 494 is tops amongst the Lake Michigan Conference, with East Jordan’s 302 the smallest. Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Boyne City, Harbor Springs and Kalkaska all fall in-between.
The new league would also feature Traverse City St. Francis, currently an independent in football only.
As far as the divisions go, a large school and small school division depending on enrollment has been in talks, but isn’t a given just yet. Schools would play the other six teams in their division, with one to two crossover games a year.
Boyne City athletic director Dave Hills sits in a unique position as both A.D. and the head varsity football coach.
“From an athletic directors standpoint, it helps us with scheduling,” Hills said. “You’ve obviously got a relationship with more schools, so that will assist us number one. With the number of schools that we have there’s very little scheduling that we’re going to have to do in the area.”
Hills likes the move from a coaching standpoint as well, as he see’s more even matchups leading to better games on the field.
“I think it has the potential to be a good thing for us,” he said. “We play a lot of these schools already.”
Hills also likes the move when it comes to long road trips for his team.
“From a football standpoint, it allows you to play schools near you that you can develop rivalries with,” he said. “This year we traveled down to Kent City to pick up a game, I’d much rather travel to Kingsley.”
The Ramblers trip to Kent City was a 330-mile round-trip game, while a matchup with Kingsley, which could act as a cross-over game, would equate to 128 miles round-trip.
While there’s work to be done still, the excitement is already there for Hills and others.
“We’re excited about it just like the majority of the athletic directors are,” Hills added.
“I think it can turn out to be a real good relationship and real good competition for all of us.”