COLUMN: LAFAYETTE JEFFERSON FIRST TO (RE)JOIN EXPANDED NORTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE

THE DEAN'S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY

There has been much speculation on what the future holds for the esteemed North Central Conference and its eight current members. On Monday afternoon, Feb. 11, the picture got a tad clearer. And by Monday night, it was nearly crystal clear.

The day started with an article written by Ray Cooney in the Portland Commercial-Review. In it, Cooney said Jay County High School Athletic Director Bob Lutton confirmed the school had officially received an invitation to join the NCC. But Lutton could not confirm whether the school would accept the invitation as they still have questions that need to be answered concerning how scheduling and tournaments would be structured.

The same invitation was also sent to Lafayette Jefferson, McCutcheon and Harrison. On Monday afternoon, Kokomo High School Athletic Director Jason Snyder said he was aware the letter of invitation had been sent, but he said there was no guarantee the Conference of Champions would expand beyond the current eight members: Kokomo, Marion, Logansport, Anderson, Huntington North, Muncie Central, New Castle and Richmond.

“I think some of the questions will start to be answered (on Feb. 11) as Lafayette Jeff has its board meeting,” Snyder said on Monday afternoon. “If there is something, they would present it to their board that evening. I am not sure they will accept an invitation. That is the big thing that is in question – whether they will accept the invitations. I think Harrison and McCutcheon have school board meetings on Wednesday. We (the NCC athletic directors) have a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday as well, so more might come out.”

By Monday night, the Lafayette School Corporation board of school trustees met, and according to Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal and Courier, the trustees unanimously voted for Lafayette Jefferson High School to rejoin the North Central Conference. And with that vote, the NCC expansion went from speculation to a done deal. It is expected the Tippecanoe School Corporation will follow suit and vote to allow McCutcheon and Harrison to join the prestigious conference on Feb. 13.

Adding Jefferson, McCutcheon and Harrison will bring the number of 5A football teams in the conference to six, and in basketball all 12 are 4A programs with the exception of 3A Muncie Central. It appears the conference will break into two divisions, although there is still discussion on how league champions will be crowned in the various sports. The most logical, and most rumored, split would look like this (latest IHSAA enrollment and football class noted):

-- (Division One) Kokomo (1,914 in 5A), Marion (1,255 in 4A), Logansport (1,265 in 4A), Lafayette Jefferson (1,936 in 5A), McCutcheon (1,871 in 5A) and Harrison (1,740 in 5A).

-- (Division Two) Muncie Central (912 in 4A), Richmond (1,542 in 4A), New Castle (1,071 in 4A), Anderson (2,279 in 5A), Huntington North (1,915 in 5A) and Jay County (1,118 in 4A).

Jay County has played as an independent since the Olympic Athletic Conference dissolved in 2010. At the time, Anderson Highland was absorbed into Anderson High School, leaving the conference with just three teams. Former OAC member Muncie South is rumored to have interest in the NCC, but no invitation has been offered to the school. The third former OAC school, Connersville, is set to join the Eastern Indiana Conference this fall.

McCutcheon and Harrison are also former OAC members, but they fled in 1999 to join the Hoosier Crossroads Conference. Lafayette Jeff parted ways with NCC in 2003 to join the HCC – a conference that ironically kicked out the three schools late last year. Now, the three Lafayette area schools that bolted established conferences are all looking for a new home in the prestigious North Central Conference.

For anyone who has read my column on a regular basis, you know my stance has been for the NCC to stay as an eight team league. I see no upside with expanding and am especially against adding multiple teams from the same city. Snyder said the conference will issue a statement in the coming days on the matter, and hopefully the conference will finally answer why it feels the need to expand. Is it economics, prestige or something else? I guess time will tell on what the real reason for NCC expansion is.

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

Dean Hockney is the owner/publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana, sports editor of the Kokomo Herald and public address voice of IU Kokomo athletics. His column can be found each week on the last page of the Sports Journal.

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