Sports conferences will see much change

By Ryan Schleichler
Sun Focus Newspapers

Beginning fall 2013, the North Suburban Conference is going to have a different appearance, as three schools will be leaving and heading to the Mississippi 8 Conference.

Chisago Lakes, North Branch and St. Francis have all accepted invitations extended by the Mississippi 8 Conference to join existing schools of Big Lake, Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti, Monticello, Princeton, Rogers and St. Michael-Albertville. Chisago Lakes High School Athletic Director Neil Fletcher said, “[Chisago Lakes] needed to be proactive to look for a conference with similar programs; the Mississippi 8 Conference provides this opportunity.”

What Fletcher and many other athletic directors are looking at in terms of similar programs is their size in relation to other schools in the same conference, and the talent pools to which teams are able to draw their players. Depending on the activity, schools in the North Suburban Conference can range anywhere from Class 5A to Class 3A, which really makes it difficult for schools to find the right balance to compete on a consistent basis.

One uphill challenge that faced Chisago Lakes, St. Francis and North Branch were their locations relative to the Twin Cities metro area as compared to other North Suburban Schools Conference Schools. Obviously being closer to a much heavier populated area increases the likelihood of competitiveness, as there are many more opportunities available to programs when selecting players.

Smaller populated areas do not have such density and depth of opportunities therefore causing a huge discrepancy in competitiveness.

For example, according to the most recent census data, Fridley is about 11 square miles in size with a population just over 27,000 people. Compare that to North Branch, which is over 35 square miles in size (three times the size of Fridley in square miles), yet North Branch doesn’t come close to population size as they are just north of 10,000 people. Lindstrom, home to Chisago Lakes High School, is on the other side of the spectrum, about two square miles in size and a population of about 4,400 people.

Three towns, large geographical differences, and even larger population differences but all the in the same athletic conference.

What will be ahead?

“The North Suburban was a great experience for our school for the nine years we were in the league. Many great relationships were established between our programs,” said Fletcher. “But, the NSC (North Suburban Conference) was destined to go through an upheaval.”

Soon after Chisago Lakes, North Branch, and St. Francis made it public they were leaving, questions began to rise as to what the future may entail for the North Suburban Conference.

Little by little, questions became answered as it became obvious other schools were feeling uneasy in their current situation with the North Suburban Conference as well. In a school board meeting this past March, St. Louis Park’s school board voted unanimously to leave behind the North Suburban Conference and accept an invitation to the newly formed “Metro-West Conference,” citing geography and competitive balance as the two big ticket items.

St. Louis Park’s departure proved enough for Robbinsdale-Cooper to also make the move to the “West-Metro Conference,” both schools would officially join that conference beginning in the fall of 2014.

With such a shakeup, the North Suburban Conference is left with only six schools beyond this season consisting of Columbia Heights, Fridley, Irondale, Spring Lake Park, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Totino-Grace.

With such depletion in the future of a once very competitive conference, athletic directors from each of the schools were forced to unite and discuss the conference’s future.

And that’s just what they did. From a meeting held back in May, the decision was reached to completely dissolve the North Suburban Conference at the end of the 2013-2014 athletic year, leaving these six schools without a conference. Schools will go through the process of applying to different conferences. Options may include joining the newly formed Metro-West Conference or the Northwest Suburban Conference, but those decisions won’t be made until a later date.

Suggestions have been a new private conference could form, although, many feel as though there is a very slight chance that this opportunity may happen.

There is a large amount of diversity in the way private schools run their programs, which creates hesitancy among those private schools to create their own conference. Many private schools are afraid that the competitive imbalance that is currently being argued between public to private schools in the current conference setup may become an issue if different-sized private schools from different areas of the state combine to form one conference.

Totino-Grace’s Athletic Director Mike Smith has been part of many talks regarding this subject and believes this will not happen anytime soon. “The private school conference has been discussed but very few are really interested in it.  I am pretty sure that it will never happen.”

Right now, the only thing known is that the 2013-14 season will be the last hoorah for the North Suburban Conference. After that, many questions will need to be answered.

Contact Ryan Schleichler at ryan.schleichler@ecm-inc.com

up arrow