Benton Harbor voted in July to leave the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference after this school year. Which leaves the conference with just 11 teams… So now what???
How can we fix the SMAC?
The SMAC has to figure out someway to get to an even number of schools. One of the options that apparently has already been discussed was Niles was going to step aside, but some have said that it wouldn’t be voluntarily.
Niles has said that one of the reasons is they would like to resume their rivalry football game with Dowagiac.
For that to happen the Wolverine Conference would have to expand. Which at first glance would be an easy thing to do with Benton Harbor and Niles looking for a new league affiliation.
But you know things are never that easy, there will always be a wrinkle…. and that’s exactly what we have. The wrinkle is that Benton Harbor has decided that they will be an independent school in 2016-2017.
So this stops the Wolverine from creating a problem that the SMAC is looking to solve, You can’t have a conference with an odd number, which leaves you with a school looking to fill an open Friday night for a football game. Something the SMAC AD’s haven’t had to do since 2000, when the conference had just 8 teams.
So now what???
The SMAC could go to 10 teams with the departure of Niles, but then what do the Vikings do. They could go independent themselves and travel across the state, only to end up playing their SMAC opponents in the MHSAA playoffs anyways.
Niles could do something a little unexpected. Instead of going north to look for games, they could go south and look to Northern Indiana for a league. That does take a little adjustment for the two to work out, because Indiana plays a 10 game season and starts the week before in Michigan.
The SMAC could look to add schools to get to the even number if Niles does stay. But where do they look. They would want to have schools that are Class A, but in the same enrollment range as the existing schools.
That would mean the only possibly schools would be in the southern part of the current Ottawa-Kent Conference. Which would put schools like Holland, Hamilton, and Wayland in the radar of the SMAC. Holland was once a member of the SMAC Conference in the 1970’s and 80’s.
However the schools in that part of the league would be on their own little island, which is basically what Niles is now. They would be the farthest outposts of a league that takes up most of the southwest corner of the state.
It’s no secret that the SMAC is run by the schools in the Kalamazoo/Portage area. Kalamazoo’s school board has two schools in the league, Central and Loy Norrix, and Portage also has two schools in the league with Central and Northern. With Mattawan and Gull Lake less than a stone’s throw away from Westnedge Avenue. Four school boards effectively have control of more than 50% of the league.
The league will do what they want to keep the league going forward, they might want to simply make it a Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area league with just 8 teams. Which would put St. Joe and Lakeshore into a hole as well.
There is no easy way to fix this, the simple route would have been to have Edwardsburg and Benton Harbor switch spots. But that’s not happending, so then a second option would be for Niles and Benton Harbor go to the Wolverine, but Benton Harbor has said they’re going independent.
Niles could stay, then the SMAC adds 1 or 3 schools from the OK conference, and in all honesty, with 48 schools in that league, they would hardly miss three schools.
It’s a mess right now. The area school administrators will have to have some long and serious discussions about the state of Southwest Michigan athletics going forward. Whatever they discuss, they’ll have to find a way to get things done quickly, the league scheduling process for 2016-2017 is well underway and a major change to the conference layout will only make it harder to get the season schedules done the longer they wait.
The high school football season begins on Thursday night on Sports Radio 1400 WSJM with Michigan Lutheran at defending state champion Lawrence. Then on Friday night, St. Joseph and Lakeshore each travel for their opening games with the Lancers at Battle Creek Central on 94.9 WSJM-FM and St. Joe at Kalamazoo Central on Sports Radio 1400 WSJM. Plus, tune in at 6 PM on Friday night as Bret Witkowski and I preview the upcoming games on Friday Night Kickoff.