WEBSTER CITY - The 88-year-old North Central Conference is one step away from losing one of its 10 members. But will that be the end of the defections?
Maybe. And maybe not.
Superintendents from the North Iowa Conference unanimously approved to add current NCC member Algona Bishop Garrigan and North Union to the league's roster on Nov. 26. All that is left is a two-thirds approval from the school boards of the eight current NIC members - Belmond-Klemme, Forest City, Garner-Hayfield, Lake Mills, Mason City Newman, North Iowa, Osage and West Hancock - and those votes are expected to take place this month.
Pending approval, which appears to be likely, Garrigan and North Union would join the NIC in the fall of 2014.
Representatives from Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield - two more long time NCC members - met with NIC officials last Wednesday for an exploratory meeting on the possibility of jumping to the northern conference. Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver confirmed the meeting took place and said his school board voted in favor of applying to the NIC Monday night.
"I think it's fair to say we're having serious discussions on if that's best for our district or not," Toliver said. "And I think it's fair to say there is interest from both parties (Eagle Grove and the NIC) to see if this is something that can happen."
Eagle Grove's enrollment of 179 in grades 9-11 puts it ninth in the NCC's hierarchy behind only Bishop Garrigan (132), and Toliver says that plays a factor in the school district possibly looking at the NIC as a viable option. He also says declining success in recent years has forced Eagle Grove to consider leaving the conference it has called home for decades.
"We have a hard time competing in (the NCC)," Toliver said. "Year in and year out, we're at the bottom of the standings in conference sports and when we get into conference play, like in basketball, you get 21 games and 18 of those are against schools that are twice as big as us.
"We believe we can be more competitive in (the NIC)."
The expansion of the NIC could also include the schools from the Corn Bowl Conference - West Fork, Riceville, North Butler, Northwood-Kensett, Central Springs, Rockford, Nashua-Plainfield and St. Ansgar - to form a super conference. It's in that scenario where Toliver thinks Eagle Grove and potentially Clarion-Goldfield could make the jump.
"(NIC officials) told us at the meeting that the hope is to go to a super conference with 18 to 20 schools and have east and west divisions if they can," Toliver said. "The North Iowa has interest in adding Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield if they go to a super conference plan. And if they go that way then Eagle Grove has serious interest as well."
Toliver said that Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield officials have not met independently from the NIC, but the theory that the two schools are a joint package is realistic.
"I want to honestly say yes to that. If they're going to send invites, it fits a lot better to invite two (schools) instead of one," he said. "But our decision will be independent of Clarion's decision. There's never been a meeting."
Toliver never mentioned the potential increase in travel in the NIC. Eagle Grove currently averages 71 miles round trip to visit an NCC opponent; that figure would skyrocket to 119 in the NIC.
Clarion-Goldfield's road trips would increase from 70 to 94 miles on average.
Webster City Superintendent Mike Sherwood told his school board Monday night that "things have moved rather quickly" with regards to conference realignment, and that officials from the NCC will meet on Friday to discuss their options.
WCHS Athletic Director Bob Howard says that the latest moves could have a ripple effect throughout the conference. The NCC would still be viable if it lost just Garrigan, but the thought of losing Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield would put the remaining seven schools in a precarious position.
"This puts you in a tenuous situation on several fronts and one of them is several dominos have to fall for this to happen, but how long do we wait for those dominos to fall?" Howard said. "A seven-team conference, if (Eagle Grove and Clarion-Goldfield) would go, that's a tough scheduling deal. If all seven will stick, it can certainly be done. The risk is when Eagle Grove and Clarion go, are the remaining seven going to stand tough?"
In the past, Iowa Falls-Alden has been courted by the North Iowa Cedar League, but has declined invitations.
Sherwood admitted that anything less than seven NCC members would likely mean the league would cease to exist.
"Seven is workable, but a stretch," Sherwood told the Webster City school board. "Six is difficult."
Webster City could find itself in the most difficult position were the NCC to fold. Clear Lake is centrally located on the NIC map, Hampton-Dumont is in NICL territory, Humboldt and Algona are both in close proximity to the Lakes Conference lineup, and Fort Dodge St. Edmond is within reach of the Twin Lakes Conference.
What would that mean for the Lynx? The closest conference with comparable enrollments is the Raccoon River Conference, but that would mean extensive travel.
"South would be maybe our only viable option, but that's a lot more travel," Howard said.
Sherwood said the worst-case scenario would put Webster City's conference fate in the hands of the state.
"If we go through the entire process, there would be a procedure where we would petition to join a conference and if that conference would not accept, there's an arbitration process you go through and I believe the Department of (Education) will put you someplace. But we'd prefer not to deal with it," he said.