West Central Conference has new look
By T.J. Bartelt
West Central Tribune
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Morris Area, both members of the West Central South Conference, will open the football season Friday at Grove City.
But it won't be counted as a conference game.
With the West Central Conference expanding to 18 teams, adding Foley (which will be a full member this year after competing in every sport but football last year), Milaca and Mora, a shift to accommodate travel and non-conference scheduling moved 10 teams into the South and eight in the North.
So 16 of the teams will open the season playing an opponent in the opposite division.
For the Falcons, it knocks out a tradition of playing New London-Spicer to open the football season.
"One of the things that has stuck out for me is a lot of the teams have lost traditional rivalries that are big games for each school," said Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City coach Terry Karlsgodt. "New London and us, we've played forever and ever. Opening game long-time rivalries were eliminated by this decision."
Conference rivalries like Montevideo vs. Yellow Medicine East and Benson vs. Morris Area won't happen this year. Each team plays seven conference games and one non-conference game. For teams in the South, it means playing seven of a possible nine opponents, while the North will play everyone.
"When you look at the whole picture, you try to do what's best for the conference," said Morris coach Jerry Witt. "The (Benson-Morris) rivalry is the thing that disappoints me, but will only be one year. It will be a little bit different. It's a really good fan draw.
"Everybody (in the South) is going to miss playing somebody this season."
To make room for three new members, Staples-Motley moved out of the conference, Minnewaska and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle switched from the North to the South.
For the most part, the Week one non-conference games will be matched up by school enrollment. Milaca, now the largest school in the conference with 604 students, will play Minnewaska, which is the second-biggest in the South with 393. It keeps Montevideo's yearly rivalry with St. Cloud Cathedral intact. The Thunder Hawks have 435 students and the Crusaders 550.
That leaves the two smallest schools in the entire conference, Morris (290) and ACGC (234), without an inter-conference match-up. To keep from forcing the schools to find other non-conference opponents, they will play each other.
"Schedule-making is just a headache."said Witt. "I'm sure I'll be asked why we're not playing Benson."
According to Benson football coach Scott Gonnerman, the non-conference games are not a home-and-home cycle and could change next season.
Looking at the school enrollments, the football alignment has been divided into the higher numbers for the North schools and the lower numbers for the South. The top seven schools are all in the North. And, all the North teams are Class AAA schools while only Montevideo and Minnewaska are in that class in the South. The rest are Class AA.
"For the most part, I think that's fair," Karlsgodt said of the realignment. "We're the smallest of the 16 schools. We're not only the smallest, but it's a significant amount."
Being able to schedule a non-conference game consistently is another reason for the shuffle, as teams without traditional rivals found it harder to fill the one hole in their schedules. Not all teams last season or in previous years played someone in the opposite division.
Still a lot of travel
Lac qui Parle Valley got the short end of the deal when the non-conference games were set. The Eagles will have to travel about 148 miles to play at Foley Aug. 28. Of the eight North-South match-ups during Week One, five of them are at least 90 miles of travel (including the LQPV-Foley game): YME at Albany - 91 miles; Milaca at Minnewaska - 98 miles; Montevideo vs. St. Cloud Cathedral at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud - 102 miles; Mora at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle - 105 miles.
Here's an interesting scenario: Let's say ACGC beats Morris in their non-conference game, but the Falcons lose one game over the rest of the regular season. Morris sweeps through their conference schedule. Is it fair that Morris would win the conference title (if no other team had the same record), despite losing to ACGC?
"You hope that something like that isn't going to develop," said Karlsgodt when posed with the hypothetical situation. "Something like that could happen."
For the rest of the high school sports, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle moves back to the North and both sides have nine teams each.