Ever-changing landscape. Over the course of my career, and it has been almost exclusively my career, one thing has drawn my interest greatly but also that of the diehard sports fans. That one thing is conference realignment.
Conference alignment provides perhaps the biggest part of athletics, no matter the sport. I have long said that non-conference opponents typically resemble a dance: you have to have a willing partner.
In this analogy, then, your conference opponents can be viewed as something more. Maybe cousins or brothers. In many cases, that isn’t far from the truth because some extended families span more than one high school or school district or even college/university.
Given the importance of those relationships, they aren’t to be forged lightly.
With that background, and how those analogies can and do ring true, is it no wonder that when there is a conference shakeup, it is met with a lot of hand-wringing?
A geographic footprint sometimes isn’t enough. Some shared beliefs and even some of those dances from before need to be there. A common ground is necessary.
That is why some schools, although close by, just aren’t a “fit.”
And that is also why when one of the fellow brothers strikes out on their own, or heads to another family, it is a blow that is taken personally.
One of the arguments against the state-wide realignment, purely from a football standpoint in Wisconsin was sidetracked was because in many instances, the schools in their new conferences would only play each other in football. A relationship wasn’t there, not would be, in other sports like basketball or baseball/softball.
The familiarity, and the camaraderie, of playing against student-athletes you see more than once and in multiple arenas would not be there. A healthy respect for the for would take longer to develop, if at all.
Now that I am back in Michigan, with its Wild West ways when it comes to conferences, those are the kinds of things considered, among others.
While other states may have definitive playoff qualifying because of league placement, Michigan does not. And so some schools are more likely to work with others than another group. It also points to the possibilities of certain programs hijacking conference alignment for their short-term and shortsighted gain.
Other pressures appear to be travel for some circles. With diminishing families from the turn of the century here in this state, it should pull schools together more to reach an amicable solution. That is if both sides wish to reach a conclusion that benefits both parties.
Not everyone is happy with how these things work out.
Conference alignment is one of the least understood, but most critical, parts of school sports.