September 19, 2014

Elyria
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High schools changing conferences; Elyria not opposed to switching to SWC

Brecksville made a recommendation to its board of education to accept an invitation to join the Suburban League for the 2015-16 school year, according to athletic director Dan Kalinsky.

The board of education will vote on the issue Monday.

“It was a very, very tough decision,” Kalinsky said. “It was something we wrestled long and hard about because of the respect and happiness we have in the Southwestern Conference. It’s a great league, we enjoyed our run there.”

The Southwestern Conference was set to expand to 10 teams in 2015-16 with the additions of Avon, Midview and Lakewood. According to Westlake athletic director Tony Cipollone, who is the 2013-14 president of the SWC athletic directors, the SWC has a number of options.

“There are some internal discussions on whether to replace them with somebody, look to do something different or leave it as nine,” said Cipollone, who is also not opposed to a 12-team model. “I think everything is on the table at this point, but obviously we’ll have to do it pretty quickly.”

Some of those options could include Lorain County teams Elyria and North Ridgeville.
Cipollone said that both — along with Rocky River and Bay — expressed some interest in the spots that eventually went to Avon, Midview and Lakewood.

Elyria athletic director Heather Beck said the Pioneers would be interested in switching to the SWC if the opportunity presented itself.

“A lot of those teams are teams we already play in non-conference games,” she said Tuesday night. “We would love to join them in a conference.”

Beck cited geography as a main reason why Elyria would be interested in the SWC. The Pioneers are the farthest western school in the NOC and often have to travel over an hour to face opponents. She re-iterated, however, that the Pioneers are not displeased with the NOC.

“We are satisfied in this conference,” Beck said. “It’s great competition. If we don’t get into the SWC we’re still happy in the NOC.”

Cipollone does not anticipate any future departures among the remaining six SWC teams, which include Amherst, Avon Lake, Berea-Midpark, North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls and Westlake.

Brecksville is not the only school that will be joining the Suburban League. Suburban League President Dana Addis confirmed Tuesday that superintendents from Aurora, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Kent Roosevelt, North Royalton, Stow and Twinsburg have accepted invitations to join the 64-year-old league.

The schools’ final hurdle will be getting board approval. That is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

“I would say we’re way beyond excited,” Addis said. “We have a lot of work to do, but it’s exciting work. We think this stabilizes us for a long time.”

The Suburban League’s plan is to split into two eight-team divisions based on enrollment. Brecksville, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, North Royalton, Stow and Twinsburg would join existing members Nordonia and Wadsworth in the big school division, with Aurora, Barberton and Kent Roosevelt joining Copley, Cloverleaf, Highland, Tallmadge and Revere in the small school division.

The Northeast Ohio Conference will lose five schools, bringing its total membership down to 13. The NOC would have to aggressively pursue expansion options in order to retain its current 18-team, three-division alignment consisting of Division I schools in all sports (except for football due to the recent divisional re-alignment).

Beck said that at a recent NOC meeting the conference will at least try to pursue a 14th team, but it had not yet decided how far it wants to pursue expansion options.

“It was kind of a shock to all of us in the conference,” she said. “Right now we’re at a standpoint of let’s at least find one team and if we can find enough to get back up to 18, great. We like the three divisions, it makes it more competitive for every team.”

NOC Commissioner Dan Gerome doesn’t seem concerned. He said the first goal is to replace the departing schools, which could include North Ridgeville, who applied to the NOC this summer and attended an NOC informational meeting in June.

Gerome is willing to compromise. If the 18-team format can’t be maintained, the NOC could go to two divisions of seven or eight teams.

“Let’s be honest, people are always posturing for the right place to put their football team,” Gerome said. “That’s what it’s about 99 percent of the time. It can be about travel and gate receipts, but those are less of an issue. What we’d like to do is to stay at 18 and keep the format we have with the competitive balance.”

Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com. Chronicle sportswriter Albert Grindle contributed to this story.