Burlington Central High School, a charter member of the Big Northern Conference, will be leaving the BNC for the new Kishwaukee River Conference in the fall of 2016.
The move was approved Tuesday night by the Central School District 301 board of education. Central will notify the BNC of its intention to leave the conference at the league's board of control meeting Thursday.
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"We've reached out to our families and they support this move," said Central principal Matt Haug. "We have a lot of families who can't make it to games out west and travel costs keep going up."
Central will be joined in the new conference by Marengo, Woodstock North, Woodstock and most likely Harvard, with that school's board set to vote on the matter May 21, according to BC athletic director Steve Diversey. Woodstock North and Woodstock will be leaving the Fox Valley Conference, while Marengo and Harvard are currently members of the Big Northern's East Division along with Central.
The new league will actively be seeking a sixth school and Diversey said the ultimate goal is for an eight-team conference.
Johnsburg, which is leaving the FVC for the Big Northern, Genoa-Kingston and Richmond-Burton have all been approached and been involved in discussions about the new league. Only Genoa has, at this point, said it intends to stay in the Big Northern.
The central issue to deciding to pursue a new conference became travel. In recent years, the Big Northern's West Division has added schools such as Dixon, Mendota and Rock Falls, making travel times and costs exorbitant for the schools in the East Division, as well as creating situations where student-athletes have to miss class time in order to travel to games. In the presentation to the board recommending the change, Diversey and Haug provided figures that showed Central spending over $47,000 on travel in 2012-13 with that figure projected to be just over $20,000 in the new league. They also cited the opportunity for a more balanced alignment of competition levels and sports offered.
"The advantage for us is that we'll increase parental involvement because of the closeness of the schools involved," said Diversey. "We'll also save on travel costs and the other enticing factor is that we'll be able to mold this conference into what the schools want and need based on size and programs offered."
Central, with 1,051 students, is currently the largest school in the Big Northern. It will also be the largest school in the new KRC but Woodstock and Woodstock North have 950 and 930 enrollments respectively, with Woodstock projected at 1,092 when the new conference begins competition. Harvard is currently at 703 and Marengo at 760. The second largest school in the current Big Northern is West Division member Dixon at 802. East Division members North Boone (531) and Rockford Christian (431) offer fewer programs than the Woodstocks, another factor in the decision to pursue the KRC.
"We've found that we have different needs than the schools on the west side," said Diversey. "Now we'll be in with schools more like our size."
Haug acknowledged the Big Northern has been a good fit for Central, which was a charter member of the Little Eight Conference, which became the Big Eight prior to becoming the Big Northern.
"The BNC has been a great organization to be part of," he said. "We've had great articulation academically and athletically. We figure this will provide us with great competition. We're looking forward to it and it should be exciting."
Diversey said the new conference will now go about the business of setting up its administration, as well as seek other schools to join. While the Big Northern allows schools to leave the conference with less than two years' notice if the other schools in the league agree, the FVC does not.
"We'll send out some formal invites and see what kind of conversation it brings," he said. "Ultimately our goal is to get to eight schools. We have two years to get it done but we'd like to have everything in place by the end of next school year. We'll meet in the near future to figure out our timeline and structure. Once we get the bylaws and constitution done everything else will fall into place.
"We don't want to rush things. We want to make sure if other schools come in they have a voice."