Potential conference merger in the works

NEW ULM Another potential merger between the South Central and Southwest Conferences in all sports is being discussed.

“The Superintendents of the two conferences met back on May 17th,” New Ulm High School Activities Director Chad Eischens said. “They did discuss scheduling between the two conferences and a possible merger. Our school board did approve that (June 13th) but there is nothing formal at this time. It is just that we want to further explore this.”

“When the Superintendents talked, they talked about the 2014-15 school year as a potential target date but that is a real tight turnaround,” said Eischens. “It sounds like it is a long ways off but when you are an activities director you are scheduling a year in advance. So before you know it the fall season will be here and we will be scheduling for that. So in my mind it is more realistic to look at the 2015-16 school year.”

But as everyone knows, potential mergers do not happen quickly. This is also the case between the 13 schools of the two conferences with each having differing opinions.

“There is going to be a lot of conversation,” Eischens said. “It is going to be up to each individual school to decide what is best for them.”

And there are some hurdles that each school needs to look at from their individual viewpoints.

“Travel is a big one,” Eischens said. “Along with travel comes cost. You talk about getting kids out of school early and that is never good – you need to keep kids in class as long as you can.”

Schools like Waseca on the eastern end of the South Central Conference could face a potential trip to Pipestone or Luverne for a basketball game.

While Eischens did not comment on that, he did say that he feels that if the merger does go through that not all of the schools in the two conferences will be involved. “I do not think that you will see all of the current schools on board. There will be some subtractions.”

Also, the schools play in different sections, which can create some problems.

“Our soccer is in Section 2AA, volleyball is in 3AA while in basketball we are a class larger than all of the schools and we are also in a different section,” Eischens said. “So when I do our basketball scheduling, I try and get section opponents so we have an easier time seeding when it comes to playoff time. We could lose some section games which we should really try hard to keep.”

Another potential bump in the road is that not every school offers the same activities at the same levels.

“We are probably able to overcome that but not every school has similar levels,” Eischens said. “We have varsity, JV and a C-squad in all of our activities. But that is not the same for some of the other schools that we are talking about. We are trying to create schedules and then you lose those lower level games.”

“When it comes to those lower levels we are already starting to poll that information together,” said Eischens. “We will have a chart with that information on and I expect each individual coach to stick up for their programs. But at the end of the day, the school boards are going to have to make a decision based on the information that they have.”

There is also the possibility that after all the schools talk there is not enough support for the merger. What is the next direction for some schools who favor the merger?

It would create a scheduling nightmare for some activity directors.

“But we do not have trouble scheduling games outside of the (South Central) Conference.” Eischens said. “Football was an issue but we have that worked out now with an agreement starting in 2014 with the Southwest Conference. It is not overly difficult to find contests in other activities.” (Marshall is playing football in the Wright County on a current two year agreement.)

Some people may remember years ago when a potential merger in football between the two conferences started to grow into a merger of all sports between the two conferences. This later fell apart.

“Again each school is going to have to watch out for themselves,” Eishcens said. “As is each sport. Specific to hockey, that is one issue that we spoke about in losing those lower level games. That would be a concern.”

“There is going to be a lot of conversation before this is resolved,” Eischens said. “It will be a long process – I could see this taking an entire year. Each school needs internal conversations with coaches and you also need the input from parents and the community. Is that 2 1/2 to 3 hour bus ride good for your kid and attendance at games?”

What is Eischens’ feelings on the potential merger?

“We will approach this with an open mind and will do what is best for New Ulm High School.”

My own opinion is that if this merger does happen, I see Waseca, St. Peter and Blue Earth Area looking for new conference affiliations.

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