Speculation turned into reality Tuesday for administrators at 26 eastern Iowa high schools.
Ending months of discussion and debate, a ruling by the Iowa Department of Education creates two 13-team athletic conferences from a collection of schools currently participating in three athletic conferences.
The ruling means the dissolution of the Big East Conference, whose schools are among those that will be split among the neighboring Cedar Valley Conference and Tri-Rivers Conference beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
“There will be a lot of changes for all of us,” Calamus-Wheatland superintendent Lonnie Luepker said. “We were happy with the Big East and we will continue to try to schedule old rivals in the nonconference, but we will adjust to a little more travel and we look forward to having things settled and moving forward.”
All current Cedar Valley Conference schools — including Durant-Bennett, North Cedar, Tipton, West Liberty and Wilton in the Quad-City area — will remain together.
The current eight-team league will add the three largest schools from the Big East — Bellevue, Camanche and Northeast — and the two largest schools from the current Tri-Rivers alignment — Cascade and Monticello.
The remaining Quad-City area schools in the Big East — Bellevue Marquette, Calamus-Wheatland, Clinton Prince of Peace, Midland and Preston — have been assigned to the Tri-Rivers.
The ruling indicates the newly formed conferences, which were generally determined by school size, might choose to divide themselves into two divisions.
The decision made by Department of Education legal counsel Carol Greta and approved by the organization’s executive director, Jason Glass, mandates that the new alignments remain in place through the 2016-17 school year.
Four schools that had sought admission to existing conferences but were turned down petitioned the state for placement into leagues, and Tuesday’s decision followed multiple meetings and discussions between administrators and state education officials.
In the decision, Greta wrote, “The department’s decision gives the petitioner schools membership into appropriate conferences and is the least disruptive to the other affected schools.”
Camanche was one of the schools that petitioned the state for placement after being denied admission to the Cedar Valley Conference.
Director of athletics Steve Dougherty believes the decision is a good one for the Camanche program.
“One of the reasons we sought a change was to provide competition for our students at all age levels, particularly at the sub-varsity level where within the Big East, it had been difficult in some sports to put together a schedule,” Dougherty said.
“This places us with schools of similar size and will provide our kids the competition at the lower levels that they need.”
Tipton director of athletics Tom Gruenwald said he was somewhat surprised that the state settled on placing all teams within two conferences.
“At our most recent meeting, there was talk of three conferences, but the state has made its decision and we will all go with it,” Gruenwald said. “It will add a few miles for us, but I think that will be the case for a lot of people.”
The next step will be for athletic directors to meet and begin the process of scheduling and discuss the concept of divisional play.
“Four years ago when the CVC started, most of us were coming from the Eastern Iowa Hawkeye Conference and we simply adopted a lot of bylaws from what had been in place,” Gruenwald said. “In this instance, we have schools put together that have never competed against each other before so it will be interesting to see what ideas people have as we move forward.”
Alignments for new athletic conferences mandated by the Iowa Department of Education on Tuesday with existing league names, although administrators could vote to change the names:
Cedar Valley Conference
Iowa City Regina
Cedar Valley Christian
Clinton Prince of Peace