A Look at the Western Buckeye League…a study on athletic conference expansion

By Dave Schmidt – www.theseniorreports.com

 

DISCLAIMER – The following is a proposal and study done by THE SENIOR REPORTS.  No school or the WBL asked us to compile or do this study for them.  Schools and the WBL Commissioner were invited to comment on the study.

Todd Walker, Sports Director WIMA Radio

updated 11-15-12

 

I'm happy to give you my thoughts on this subject...

 

I think it would be a tremendous idea for the WBL to do what you are suggesting.

 

The WBL is a great league, partially because of its stability and tradition. However, we are in changing times and it is incumbent upon the schools to look to the future.

 

I think the ability to split the league into divisions allows many advantages, for football in particular. You can adjust the schedule to avoid the worst teams playing the best teams. Also, as you suggest, moving to an 8-game league schedule will also provide a better opportunity to qualify for the postseason.

 

It also would allow for flexibility in scheduling the "lesser" sports to cut down on travel as well. This primarily effects Defiance, Celina and Kenton. 

 

This move would provide the WBL more stability moving forward.

 

I'd be very interested in the negatives people can come up with on this issue. I'm sure there are some that I haven't considered but it seems obvious that the positives are much greater.

 

Feel free to use my comments in any publication.

 

Hopefully this sparks some serious discussion and consideration.

 

Lima Central Catholic Statement

updated 11-5-12

from LCC AD Ron Williams

Lima Central Catholic made a proposal similar to this to league commissioner Bob Askins in 2011, asking for the opportunity to make the proposal directly to the conference ADs. Commissioner Askins informed LCC a month later that the proposal was presented to the ADs, but because they had no plans for expansion, they decided against allowing LCC to formally present the proposal. While LCC would obviously love to enter into discussions with the WBL, we fully respect the decision of the conference ADs that they have no plans for expansion. The WBL has been an extremely stable league, as Mr. Schmidt's story shows, and it takes a majority of schools to want to take these steps. Hopefully in the future the landscape will change so the administrations and communities of the WBL schools will see a true benefit to expansion, and if this were to happen, LCC would jump at the opportunity to be a part of those discussions.




 

11-5-12 (enrollment figures updated on 6-21-13) – The trend in high school athletic conferences is to expand to a mega-conference format.  This has happened all around the US.  We are looking at a conference that I followed as a media member for many years – the WESTERN BUCKEYE LEAGUE.  This conference has had stable membership since its formation. The charter members of the league in 1940-1941 were Bellefontaine, Bluffton, Celina, St. Marys, Van Wert and Wapakoneta. Four of those schools remain as members in the current 10 school conference.  That is an amazing fact in over 72 years of competition.  The last change was when Lima Shawnee, which re-entered WBL in 1981, after Delphos St. Johns left to join the Midwest Athletic Conference, over 30 years ago.

 

More details on the conference history can be found at the WBL web site - http://www.ihigh.com/wbl/custompage_9398.html

 

The WBL has a diverse size membership –

 

Enrollment Used by OHSAA for 2013-14

 

Boys - Girls

Wapakoneta               343 – 332

Defiance                     334 - 283
Celina                         327 - 304

Shawnee                     300 – 312

St Mary’s                   293 - 239
Elida                            292 - 285
Kenton                        285 – 244

Bath                            214 - 213
Van Wert                    210 - 221
O-G                             205 - 187

 

Not many conferences in any state have such a wide range of enrollments.  Ohio has a computer point system to qualify for the football playoffs and this is an issue for the WBL, 9 games out of 10 games are conference games.  Larger schools lose points when they beat member schools with smaller enrollments.  Computer points are based on the size of the schools they beat. Several years ago the MAC did away with one conference game to allow each member an extra non-conference game and the chance to “harvest” more computer points.  It worked and it has allowed for more MAC schools to qualify for state play. 

 

Another issue that seems to affect many school systems is the rise of gas cost.  Travel is an issue for schools outside of the Lima, Ohio based area conference.  Schools located out of the Lima area have several trips of over an hour to compete against some members.  These trips also result in late nights for student-athletes during the week.  With budgets being tight it makes sense to find a solution to cut down on numerous long trips and also get the student-athlete home earlier during the week.

 

Divisional play could be the answer for both issues listed above.  Many mega-conferences that seem to work consist of 12 or 16 members.  This cut outs numerous crossover games that a 10 or 14 member conference would create on a weekly basis.  One concern of divisions in football, the opportunity of having division champs playing at the end of the season is not approved in Ohio at this time.

 

Below is a statement on this issue from the OHSAA’s Tim Stried

 

The answer is no. That scenario isn’t possible because schools are required to finalize their football schedules with the OHSAA before the season starts. I suppose if conferences work that out in other sports, there’s nothing preventing them from doing so, but they would still need to have a contest entered into the myOHSAA system so officials can be contracted, site(s) reserved, etc.

 

With many conferences looking at expansion this issue could be something the OHSAA considers in the future.  The marketing of a game like this in football would create a great atmosphere for any conference.  Other sports that can have championship match-ups will make for some exciting championships that are actually decided on the field or court. 

 

How does the WBL get to 12 members?  We see Lima Senior and Lima Central Catholic as the perfect additions.

 

Enrollment Used by OHSAA for 2013-14

 

Boys - Girls

                        Lima Senior                 424 - 368

Wapakoneta               343 – 332

Defiance                     334 - 283
Celina                         327 - 304

Shawnee                     300 – 312

St Mary’s                   293 - 239
Elida                            292 - 285
Kenton                        285 – 244

Bath                            214 - 213
Van Wert                    210 - 221
O-G                             205 - 187

LCC                            133 - 119

 

 

 

This would allow the WBL to add a large member and a small school member.  It also permits for many travel issues to be dealt with.  Football can still be worked with and divisions can still be created.  6 members in each division would allow for 5 conference games, plus as many crossover games that members decide on.  The WBL can also add 1 or 2 additional non-conference games for harvesting computer points.  The divisions for each sport could change for each sport as well to help with travel issues.

 

Now the two expansion members we see as a possible fit –

 

Lima Senior after several years as an independent is currently a member of the Toledo-based Three Rivers Athletic Conference.  This is a quality conference with some very well respected members.  In football the Spartans are struggling and the gas cost must be one of the highest in Northwest Ohio.  The “rap” in the past on Lima Senior is that they are way too big for the WBL and they are an urban setting school not well matched with the rural members.  Enrollment numbers continue to decline. In 2009 – Lima Senior had 531 boys and 527 girls.  These numbers actually came from October 2010 and will be updated very soon by the OHSAA.  I also was told by a former WBL AD that Lima Senior had been invited many years ago but turned down the opportunity.  Things are different now and it might be worth the time and effort for everyone to sit and evaluate this situation.  Lima Senior does schedule some WBL members and sees some of them tournament time.

 

Lima Central Catholic by far would be the smallest member of the WBL.  The WBL has had one private school in the past – Delphos St. Johns.  LCC was recently asked by the Northwest Conference to leave, which they did after working out a scheduling agreement to help them during the early departure time from the NWC.  At this point in time LCC is still looking for a suitable all sports conference.  LCC would be very competitive in most sports in the WBL despite the smaller enrollment.  The “rap” in the past and in the –present – “private vs public” situation in Ohio and the voucher program that allows students tuition help in a move from a public to a private school.

 

The addition of these two schools in our look at the situation is a great fit.  Five Lima schools in total in the membership (including-Bath, Shawnee and Elida) will give a strong home base in Lima for the WBL.  The main issue will be the placing of members in divisions.  Several ways this could work - big school and small school, east – west or north - south divisions to help on transportation costs.  This could also be incorporated using both formulas.

 

Who would this expansion and divisional play help the most in the long run?  Yes, Lima Senior and LCC would most likely have the most to gain from this, by becoming members of a solid and long lasting athletic conference.  The 10 current WBL will also see some benefits that solidify the future of the conference for years to come.  This includes more teams qualifying for football playoffs and financial benefits from cutting down on some of those very long road trips. Scheduling will also become a strong point for conference members. The key in all of this is all of the student-athletes at all of these schools, what is best for them.  Plus, how would this benefit area sports fans?  This change would help gate receipts due to new rivalries created by a backyard neighbor.

 

How can this help your conference?

 

How does your conference look?  Is it a good time to evaluate the future makeup of membership?  What can you do as a member to make your conference strong?  Those are items that it is helpful to evaluate on a regular basis.  Don’t take your conference for granted, to many times things can fall a part, but if you have a plan in place it is less likely to cause a disaster for your athletic conference.

 

 

RELATED STORIES –

Time For Kenton To Move On…Does Your School Need To Evaluate The Future?

http://www.theseniorreports.com/kenton.htm

 

Western Buckeye League

http://www.ihigh.com/wbl

 

Three Rivers Athletic Conference

http://tracsports.org

 

Midwest Athletic Conference

http://www.ihigh.com/midwestathleticconference

 

Northwest Conference

http://www.ihigh.com/nwc

Lima (Ohio) Central Catholic AD Ron Williams talks about the Private vs Public issue LCC faced this year...