The departure of any school from a conference or league at any level of sports brings with it questions that have no immediate answers.
Why leave now? What were the conditions for departure that the conference would want to address moving forward?
Could some good come of this? What are our options moving forward in terms of adding teams or staying pat with what we’ve got?
The movers and shakers around the conference might even have to consider if there is a future for the conference as a whole.
The Pride of Iowa faces such questions and more after the announcement of the upcoming departure of charter member Interstate 35, a member of the league since its inception in the 1988-89 school year, and Pleasantville, who joined in 2001-02, for the confines of the West Central Conference in the 2018-2019 academic year, as detailed by CNA sports editor Ryan Kronberg in the Dec. 26 issue of the News Advertiser.
Plenty of local athletic directors and coaches had definitive thoughts and concerns, while others refused to officially comment on the matter of the conference’s future.
The outlook from those who took time to respond to questions about the situation were cautiously optimistic.
“What we have to do first is take stock of where we’re at,” Mount Ayr Athletic Director and football coach Delwyn Showalter said. “Are we going to seek out people to replace them? Are we done with the changes in our conference? Are other people looking to leave too? I think as a conference we have to take a look at where things are and how we think it’s going to end up.”
The changes might not be done. For all POI schools, it only makes sense to take stock of their options after this move. The move for I-35 and Pleasantville was done in-part because of the perceived stability that the West Central Conference has moving forward. It also makes sense travel-wise for parents and fans to better be able to get to games in a more travel-friendly conference, especially for the sake of Interstate 35.
“We’re obviously disappointed as a conference because they’re two member schools who have been a good part of the conference for several years,” East Union Superintendent and Athletic Director Lance Ridgely said. “It takes us to a situation with... okay do we add people back in so we’re still at 12 or do we got to 10 and do some things that way? Scheduling becomes a question.”
Moving down from 12 teams to 10 brings with it the possibility of doing away with divisions. A number of options present themselves about the makeup of the conference, and how games will be scheduled.
“We can play the 10 teams and play everybody twice which works,” Central Decatur girls basketball coach Curtis Boothe said. “If there are a couple of teams wanting to come into the conference. Having 12, we’ve made that work for a number of years. Whatever they decide we’ll go with and have our schedule ready.”
Based on the sport, coaches will have differing thoughts on the distinction between 10, 12, or even a different number of programs.
“I think a 10-team conference wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing,” Showalter said. “On the other hand, if there’s people out there who are interested in joining us and they’re a good fit, if they’re going to add something to the table for our conference then I’d be willing to take a look at that.”
The idea of having an outright champion in sports like baseball softball and volleyball instead of split champions based on divisions is one alluring idea of a 10 team conference.
The inevitability of realignment and the need to evaluate a school district’s options will always be present. Coaches, athletic directors, administrators are keenly aware of that fact at all times.
“I think it’s the nature, there’s a little flux in those conferences every once in a while and we’ll just have to deal with it,” Ridgely said.
Deal with it they will. Change is coming to the Pride of Iowa, the extent of which is unknown. For now, plenty will be done behind closed doors to take stock of all available options.
Other schools may even be looking to poach members of the conference while uncertainty is in the air.
The athletic directors and principals of the schools, the two figures making up the Board of Control for the POI, will examine options for the schools in the conference going forward. Any possible options would likely be taken back to a school district’s school board for much further examination.
It is this group of administrators that will field any new inquiries about teams interested in joining the POI or just gauging interest.
This is the type of situation facing schools consistently. It’s just more pertinent to the Pride of Iowa at the moment. Where the conference and its member schools head will be seen in time.
Until then, we can watch with great interest as the dominoes begin to fall and the chain of events begin to unfold.