THE DEAN'S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY
As I have mentioned numerous times in this column, the face of the once-esteemed North Central Conference is changing. But until now, most of the attention has been focused on expansion – basically who is joining and not joining the NCC. For instance, Lafayette Jefferson, McCutcheon and Harrison all agreed to join a new 12 team NCC, and it was assumed Jay County would accept an invitation. But no, Jay County apparently didn’t want to get toasted in the athletic arena on a day in and day out basis in a much better conference than what they deserved – so the NCC was stuck with 11 teams and the thought of a so-called super-conference was a distant memory. Jay County eventually elected to join the Allen County Athletic Conference
But now, the conference has a new, disturbing, and yet not-unexpected development – last week Huntington North announced it will leave the conference it joined in 2004. Norwell High School said in a release that Huntington North will join Norwell, Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, New Haven and Leo in a new, unnamed conference beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. That is actually great news for the NCC because it puts the conference back to an even 10 teams. Right?
Wrong! 1926 NCC charter member New Castle and its school board voted 3-1 on June 10 to leave the conference for the Hoosier Heritage Conference – leaving the NCC at an odd nine schools. Could this get any worse for a conference that was once the pride of Indiana. A conference that bills itself as the “Conference of Champions.” A conference, simply put, that just isn’t what your dad and grandfather remember.
RadioTroy.com’s Troy Derengowski is currently asking in a column if it is time for Richmond to exit the once proud North Central Conference. In his column, he said, “I am the first one that understands tradition, but as I have stated in other commentaries, welcome to the ‘new norm.’ The long distance conference is becoming a thing of the past and perhaps Richmond needs to look into the new norm!”
Is he right? Is it simply too far and too costly to travel across the state for a basketball game where the fans won’t even half-fill a gym. It is now apparent that basketball and football games are not the fan-draws they once were. Even if one takes a survey and hears time after time that basketball is king, those very same fans will find something better to do on a Friday night. And with gas hovering over $4 a gallon this week, maybe it is time for the mega-land-mass-conferences, like the NCC, to disband and save much needed travel funds. Remember, the now monstrous Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference kicked the Terre Haute schools out and the Hoosier Crossroads Conference kicked the Lafayette schools to the curb in part due to travel.
I have watched the NCC play for decades, and the once-potent rivalries just aren’t the same. With the advent of travel ball, players know each other very well and hug and shake hands after games – they even Tweet each other on the way home. And I am not saying that is a bad thing. I am just saying maybe it is the “new norm” as Derengowski stated, and maybe it is time to play geographical teams instead of making road trips to Huntington and Richmond. Maybe it is time for an NCC to look like this – Kokomo, Anderson, Marion, Muncie Central, Logansport, Lafayette Jeff, McCutcheon, Harrison and two Indianapolis-area teams (Westfield, Lebanon, Noblesville, Fishers, or Cathedral). Or how about a Western or Frankfort?
Traditions are really a thing of the past. Kokomo didn’t even celebrate Homecoming this year – it was renamed to Spirit Week. Have you seen the Kats cheer block in Memorial Gym? They rarely have one, which is the same for most of the NCC. I bet less than 10-percent of the student body attends Kokomo basketball games – so do they even care? The Kats have whooped on the Trojans for nearly three decades in football, so that is not competitive. And Memorial Gym hasn’t been a sellout for a regular season game for years – not even when ranked teams come in. I am just saying maybe it is time to accept the “new norm” and move on. Most of us have accepted class athletics in the IHSAA, maybe now it is time to accept a diluted and closer-to-Kokomo NCC.
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. You can follow Hockney on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) to stay up-to-date on sports happenings in Howard County and around Indiana.