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Dwight leaving the I-8 could topple house of cards

(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on the current state of conference makeup for both the Northern Illinois Big 12 and the Interstate Eight Conference. Each is facing changes for the 2013-14 season as schools are leaving. The first part will focus on the I-8 and what Dwight's leaving means. Tomorrow we'll examine what Dixon's departure sets in motion.)

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about the makeup of high school conferences and the impact they have upon our local schools.  This has never been more discussed that it has at this time as both the Interstate Eight Conference and Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference are facing changes.

Dixon is leaving the NIB12 as of the 2014-15 school year for the Big Northern and Dwight is leaving the I-8 for the Sangamon Valley that same year. Meanwhile, there is also talk that the changes may not be ending there as Streator has been desiring to leave the NIB12, perhaps for the Corn Belt, and schools in the I-8 like Plano, Sandwich and even Coal City would be the right fit size wise in a league like the NIB12.

The Interstate Conference has been a staple of the area since its inception in 1979. Coal City, Seneca, Dwight, Wilmington, Reed-Custer, Plano, Sandwich, Marseilles and Yorkville were the founding schools that year. Changes have come to the I-8 with Marseilles exiting in the mid 80s and Yorkville leaving in the early 90s. Lisle (1992), Manteno (2001), Peotone (2001), Westmont (2006) and Herscher (2006) were then eventually added to complete the current makeup.

That is until Dwight had a second petition to join the SVC accepted late last month.

"The biggest thing that we looked at was the future," Dwight athletic director Ryan Kemp told me. "Right now we have 285 kids but in eight to 10 years from now, we're supposed to be down in the 210-215 range. You look at schools like Plano, Manteno, Peotone and Coal City and they are all in the 700 range.

"The move will give us a chance to compete against schools with similar athletics. In the new conference, all of the schools are rural and all the scheduling is going to be similar."

The SVC is currently made up of Clifton Central, Cissna Park, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxson-Buckley-Loda, St. Joseph Ogden, St. Thomas More and Watseka. However, St. Joe-Ogden and St. Thomas More are leaving for the Okaw Valley. That move left it with just five schools that has football in Central, Watseka, Momence, PBL and West.

Dwight's application to the SVC was originally rejected in October but they were rejected along with Monticello and Tolono Unity. It was only after the two other schools left that Dwight's application was again submitted and then accepted. Previously it has been reported that Dwight tried to leave the I-8 in 2006 for the Heart of Illinois Conference, but that was also supposedly turned down.

The Dwight School Board approved the move in Nov. by a 4-1 margin.

"We got the invitation and took it to the school board and they said they wanted to look at it," Kemp said. "They had a town hall meeting where the administration and school board presented it and a week later made the vote to make the move."

Kemp said the move was made in regards to all aspects of curriculum and not just sports.

"The decision was made across the curriculum for sure," he said. "From student council, mathletes, scholastic bowl, band and chorus. It was an across the board decision."

That decision has got the wheels spinning for all of the I-8 schools in regards to what to do. It currently has 15 schools starting with 2014 and crucial decisions are going to need to be made.

According to one I-8 athletic director, the league could apply through the I-8 for a one-year waiver by the IHSA to have just five schools for football in the one division. The I-8 is currently divided into two six-team divisions. Still, that would only put off a decision for one school year.

Considering the way the landscape is changing, Dwight's move locally may not be the last shoe to drop. One AD in the I-8 at one point expressed concern that schools like Plano and Sandwich are "both right in the middle of that Northern Illinois Big 12 region" and ripe to be plucked away.

Imagine what that would do for the makeup of the I-8 and the NIB12.

Sandwich's enrollment this year is 750 and Plano 619. Even Coal City with an enrollment of 617 would be a good fit in the NIB12.

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