WEBSTER CITY - The Eagle Grove school board decided that a partnership of nearly nine decades with the North Central Conference was long enough at its monthly meeting on Monday.
Following much debate in recent months, the board voted 3-2 to leave the 88-year-old NCC for the North Iowa Conference. Pending approval from the NIC members, Eagle Grove could shift its allegiance as early as the 2014-15 school year.
Algona Bishop Garrigan made a similar move late last year when it asked for and was granted entrance into the NIC. Garrigan will remain in the NCC next year before it moves in the fall of 2014.
Eagle Grove's decision will leave the NCC with eight schools and it again throws the future of the league into question.
"My honest answer is, right now, we don't know what's going to happen," Webster City Athletic Director Bob Howard said Monday afternoon. "I think most of us thought Eagle Grove was leaning towards staying, especially with the accommodations that the conference was trying to make. But any more, nothing can be a total surprise. You just don't know."
Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver went public with his interest in moving his school to the northern conference in December. He said a declining enrollment - Eagle Grove currently has 179 students in grades 9-11 - makes it difficult for the Eagles to compete in the larger NCC.
"We have a hard time competing in (the NCC)," Toliver said in a Dec. 10 interview with The Daily Freeman-Journal. "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)."
Eagle Grove's willingness to entertain the idea of moving forced the remaining NCC schools to attempt to sweeten the pot in an effort to keep the status quo. Howard said the NCC had been in talks of moving to a two-division league - large school and small school divisions - and there was also an attempt to entice one or more schools to move to the NCC.
The transition to two divisions would have meant Eagle Grove and the other smaller schools would have had to play the larger schools just once per season in basketball, softball and baseball. Multiple conference championships also would have been awarded in all sports.
"We were prepared to try to do divisions with nine schools, but at eight I don't know what we're going to do," Howard said. "I sure am disappointed and I would guess the rest of the conference would be because we were really attempting to facilitate them staying. We were sure going to change the status quo and the way things had been done."
Howard says the NCC can remain viable with eight schools. However, Clarion-Goldfield has also had conversations with the NIC about a possible move, and at seven schools the league would likely cease to exist.
"In my opinion, eight teams is more viable than nine because it's easier to set up your schedule," Howard said. "If we knew that everybody was sticking, which right now I think everybody is, then we could make it work."