Archive for June 12, 2013

DEAN’S LIST: IS IT TIME FOR THE NCC TO LET GO OF TRADITION, BECOME A COST-EFFECTIVE CONFERENCE?

North Central Conference

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.

CHRIS LOWRY COMMENTS ON INDIANA UNIVERSITY AND THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

NCAA College World Series 2013

THE GOLDEN VOICE WITH CHRIS LOWRY

Alright, confession time. Baseball is my favorite sport. People often ask what my favorite sport is, and I reply that basketball is my favorite to broadcast but baseball is my favorite sport overall. Like many fans though, if you look only at the collegiate level, I’d much rather check out a college football or basketball contest than one on the diamond.  There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but the main one is that college baseball just isn’t that big around here. And by around here, I mean anywhere in the Midwest.

Not surprisingly, college baseball has been dominated by warm weather teams. Big Ten and MAC schools do not traditionally have national success in the grand ole’ pastime.   Some of my fondest memories of college are of broadcasting Ball State baseball games on the student-run radio station. But when I was able to broadcast for the football team my senior, well, that was on a whole different level.

However, this is beginning to change. College baseball is starting to beckon for a greater portion of my rooting interest. Obviously, what is spurring the topic of this column is the unexpected and unparalleled success of Tracy Smith’s IU baseball program. If you haven’t heard, the Hoosiers will be making their first ever trip to Omaha, Neb., to take part in the NCAA College World Series this week. IU is one of just eight teams remaining, and the Hoosiers will be the Big Ten Conference’s first representative in the Series since 1984. That means that nearly a generation of baseball fans, including yours truly, were not around the last time a Big Ten university took part in college baseball’s grandest stage, and that is a shame. Although I watch Major League Baseball every opportunity I get, I often bypass college baseball on TV. I simply didn’t have any teams to root for or against. Last year, Kent State also made a shocking run into the World Series and, for the first time, I found myself actively watching until the Golden Flashes were bounced. This time around, I have a vested interest in what is taking place 600 miles away.

Although time will tell whether Kent State and IU are just one-time blips on the baseball map, I have a feeling that they are not. Warm weather teams have a distinct baseball advantage because they can play outdoors all year long. They also are able to play more home games for the first month of the season while teams like IU are forced to play roughly the first 20 games of their season on the road, which equates to nearly a quarter of the season. With the weather forcing northern teams to play on the road, the RPI rankings, which factor into postseason seeding, often hamper the cold weather teams. Nothing I’m saying here is breaking news for college baseball fans, but it does help illustrate why college baseball isn’t as successful in Indiana and other parts of the Midwest. Fortunately, the game is starting to show signs of a bit more parity.

A few years back, the NCAA instituted uniform spring practice and official start dates to the baseball season. While some feel that the mid-February start date is still too early to begin the season, at least it prevents the Florida’s and Texas’ of the world from getting an unfair jump on the season. In-state universities are also starting to pump more money into their baseball programs. Purdue has a brand-new baseball stadium and Ball State has plans to significantly upgrade their decadent Ball Diamond (Side note: I’d LOVE to see it renamed “Ball Park”). This season, after years of delay, IU opened up its glistening Bart Kaufman Field which will surely attract bigger and better recruits to Bloomington. The talent is already here in the state. Look no further than this year’s Major League Baseball Draft to see the 24 players who were chosen by big league clubs who either played high school or college ball in the state.

College baseball in Indiana will probably never overtake basketball or football in popularity. But the game’s stock is on the rise. So whether you are a Fighting Irish, Boilermaker, Cardinal, Wolverine, Buckeye or Spartan, root for the Hoosiers this week in Omaha. It could be another 29 years before you have the opportunity to pull for a Big Ten team in June. But something tells me it will be much sooner than that.

Side Note: Indiana University just may have the best men’s sports teams in the nation. IU currently has an excellent opportunity at winning the Capital One Cup. According to its website, the Cup “is awarded annually to the best men’s and women’s Division I college athletics programs in the country. Points toward the Capital One Cup are earned and tracked throughout the year based on final standings of NCAA Championships and final official coaches’ polls. One winning men’s and one winning women’s program will be crowned after the completion of the final NCAA spring championships. Capital One will award a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships and the Capital One Cup trophy to the winning schools at the ESPY awards in July.”

The Hoosiers currently sit third in the standings, trailing only Duke and Alabama. Due to IU’s success on the diamond, it appears that Louisville might be the only team able to overtake them in the final standings. Hoosier fans may soon be able to claim that they really are #1.

(Chris Lowry is the radio voice of the Kokomo Wildkats and Howard County athletics on AM 1350 WIOU. He contributes a monthly column to the Sports Journal.)

NORTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE STATES IT WILL CONTINUE TO SEEK EXPANSION DESPITE DEPARTURES

North Central Conference

STATEMENT FROM THE NORTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE (Indiana)

From Michael Austin, Sports Information Director

The North Central Conference (NCC) is neither surprised nor disappointed by the recent announcements of two of its member schools electing to join other conferences. The Administration and Athletic Directors of both schools were forthcoming with the process each of their schools took to make their ultimate decisions. As a result of the decision to leave the NCC, neither New Castle nor Huntington North High Schools will be eligible for any North Central Conference awards or to compete for NCC championships as per the NCC Constitution. As each of the schools makes their transition from the NCC to their new conferences, we wish them the very best.

The NCC Athletic Directors met on June 4th to discuss the possibility of both New Castle and Huntington North High Schools leaving the NCC and have a template plan in place to continue the goal of conference expansion.

As events unfold throughout the state among athletic conferences, the Athletic Directors of the NCC will continue to focus on what is best for the student athletes, coaches, schools and communities of the nine member schools in the NCC. The goal for the NCC remains the same; bigger, better, stronger and more exciting than ever.