Barring a surprising vote by Inter-Tri County League superintendents next month, it appears inevitable that the league will expand to three tiers for the 2015-16 school year.
Weathersfield Schools superintendent-and acting president of ITCL superintendents-Damon Dohar and ITCL assistant commissioner John Mang elaborated this week on the league's proposal.
"We originally started kicking this plan around a few years ago," Dohar said. "There were some schools who were unhappy with the amount of travel that was required and we began to think of solutions."
Talk of splitting the conference into three divisions was pushed to the back-burner at the time in favor of a plain to divide girls and boys sports based on enrollment rather than combine the two. This fall though, realignment talks ramped back up.
"We've been talking for about seven or eight months now," Dohar said. "There was beginning to be a lot of discord among league members about the travel issue. It got to the point where we needed to do something if the league was going to survive."
In addition to cutting down on travel one of the other goals according Mang was to boost gate receipts, particularly for football.
"Some of these schools that were far away from each other were having a hard time drawing fans to their games," Mang said. "Hopefully this could take care of some of that."
Dohar did not say which particular schools were voicing the loudest concerns.
"I can only say from my perspective at Mineral Ridge that it was tough playing some of the schools that were further away," Dohar said.
A committee was formed to examine various realignment formats. In addition to Dohar, other superintendents who were active in the process were Don Mook of Columbiana and Kirk Baker of Jackson-Milton. The proposal was passed 15-0 by the ITCL principals last week and is awaiting a final vote by the superintendents sometime in April.
One topic that Mang acknowledged has drawn concern from coaches was the way non-conference games will be handled.
Under the current plan, schools would have to schedule two cross-divisional games for football every year. For basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball, schools would play all teams within their division twice and all of the other division teams once.
Various area coaches have been concerned about the lack of schedule flexibility such a plan would create in volleyball and basketball where there would be only three open dates for schools to schedule whoever they liked.
"That was one of the first things brought up," Mang said. "A lot of coaches were concerned."
However, Mang said that an "opt-out" clause has been worked into the proposal that would release opposing schools from cross-division games if they both agreed. Schools would have a 30-day window in the spring before schedules are set to make changes. Both schools would then be free replace the dropped opponent with any school they wish.
"I think you will see that plan come into play a lot," Mang said. "We will continue to address concerns people have leading up to the final vote."
If the proposal passes, Mang said the door could be left open to future expansion, but that it would still be quite a ways off.
"Right now, I think we just have to take a couple of years and see how this plays out," Mang said. "There are people who are skeptical right now but we just need to wait and see. I do think that being proactive in this day and age is a good thing. We've seen conferences change shape in a hurry."
Red Division: Crestview, South Range, Springfield, East Palestine, United.
White Division: Columbiana, Leetonia, Wellsville, Lisbon, Southern.
Blue Division: Lowellville, Western Reserve, Jackson-Milton, McDonald, Mineral Ridge, Sebring.