From the December 11, 2012 edition of the Sports Journal

It appears to be official. According to the Lafayette Journal-Courier, the Hoosier Crossroads Conference has officially severed ties with the three Lafayette-area schools – Jefferson, McCutcheon and Harrison. Lafayette joins the ranks of Terre Haute, cities with large schools that have been kicked out of their conferences. It was only weeks ago that the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference told Terre Haute North and South to take a hike (Pike and Lawrence Central took those spots). That is five Class 4A basketball schools that have been left without a conference, and left with little options.

For Terre Haute, logistics is a key issue. There simply are not many large schools in that part of Indiana and the Indianapolis schools didn’t like the long drive to Terre Haute. The same could be said for the Lafayette schools – they are on the western side of Indiana with few big schools in the region.

The MIC is looking at expansion, and that is one of the reasons the Lafayette schools are now on the outside of the HHC. According to the Journal-Courier, Lafayette Jeff Principal Jeff Studebaker was told by the HCC that transportation costs, travel time, differences in school size and competitive balance were also factors in the decision. The rumor mill suggests the MIC wants to become a super-conference and could grab some of the higher profile HCC schools – possibly Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Brownsburg, Avon and Noblesville.

Jefferson, McCutcheon and Harrison have asked the North Central Conference to take them in. The NCC will consider its own options in the near future, and expansion has not been ruled out. But is that the right move for the Conference of Champions?

Arguments have been heard in the bleachers for the last few weeks, and here is my opinion: Keep the NCC as is! I don’t see much of an upside to bringing in the three Tippecanoe County schools. An eight team NCC seems about right, especially when it comes to the nine-game football season. And adding Lafayette back into the mix could be the final straw for charter members Richmond and New Castle. It is already a long travel day when they make the trip to Kokomo, Huntington and Logansport. But adding one, or maybe three, Lafayette teams might just break the bank, so to speak.

Remember, the Lafayette schools have not fared well in the HCC, so coming to the less-powerful NCC would mean more wins for the three schools. That is a big upside for them, but not for the conference. If one combines the last six seasons of football, boys basketball and girls hoops, the three Lafayette schools are 440-571 (.435). Only the Jefferson boys and girls basketball teams and the McCutcheon girls hoops program have winning records over the last six seasons. Lafayette Jeff already thumbed its nose at the NCC when it left in 2003, so why bring them back. Harrison is a combined 82-247 in the three sports, so why bring that kind of losing program into the hallowed conference. So that leaves McCutcheon as a viable option. Remember, the NCC by-laws state only one school is allowed from a metropolitan area and I don’t think having three votes from the Lafayette area is fair. So I go back to my original thought – keep the NCC intact. I can find little upside to bringing in any Lafayette schools.

If the NCC really wants to expand, it needs to dip into the Indianapolis market so it can garner more local news coverage on Fox59, WRTV, WTHR and WISH. About the only time an NCC team gets state-wide coverage on the nightly news is when it plays an Indianapolis area team. And bringing in a Lafayette school won’t help since WLFI-TV18 is no longer on Comcast east of Frankfort and Burlington (although I think Logansport still gets the station). If expansion is in the works, maybe the NCC would be better to grab a leftover HCC school like Westfield or Noblesville, and add in Jay County to keep Richmond and New Castle happy.

The NCC was formed in 1926 with Kokomo, Anderson, Lebanon, Logansport, Indianapolis Tech, Muncie, Frankfort, Rochester, New Castle and Richmond as the original 10. Six of those 10 remain as charter members. Lafayette Jeff joined in 1931 after Rochester dropped out and Marion became a member in 1934 to replace Lebanon. Tech left in 1960 (due to an Indianapolis School Board decision) and Frankfort followed them in 1966 due to lower enrollment. There were no further changes in the conference alignment until Jeff left in 2003 and was replaced by Huntington North.

With that kind of stability, why shake up things? Eight is a good number for a conference, and with no obvious upside to expansion, maybe the best thing for the North Central Conference to do is nothing. If the NCC does ask a Lafayette school (or three) to join, I sure hope it isn’t at the expense of losing founding members like Richmond and New Castle. That has to be taken into account, right?

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

P.S. And since the Krispy Kreme near State Road 26 and Interstate 65 closed, the Lafayette trip just isn’t the same.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Perspective. His column can be found each week on the last page of the Sports Journal. You can follow Hockney on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) to stay up-to-date on sports happenings in Howard County and around Indiana.

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