The realignment of the Mid-State League has left the Cardinal Division with six teams, which adds challenges and intrigue to the seemingly simple task of nonleague scheduling.
Fairfield Christian Academy and Grove City Christian have entered the MSL-Cardinal to fill the void left by Licking Heights, West Jefferson, Liberty Union and Grandview Heights. Licking Heights is joining the Licking County League, while Liberty Union is switching to the MSL-Buckeye and West Jeff and Grandview Heights are joining the MSL-Ohio.
FCA and Grove City Christian join Harvest Prep, Millersport, Fisher Catholic and Berne Union in creation of the six-team league. In recent years, the gap in size between the largest and smallest schools was close to 400 students. That difference only is about 50 in the new conference.
“We’re excited about it,” said Jon Parker, who is giving up his position as athletic director at Berne Union to become the high school’s principal. “Expectations are a little different. It’s a sense of hope. It’s nice to know that in every sport, we have the chance to legitimately compete for a league title.”
One caveat of the smaller conference is adjustments to nonleague scheduling. In football, most conferences have at least eight schools and teams are done with nonleague games by the fourth week of the season. With only five conference games for MSL-Cardinal teams, half of the season will consist of nonleague contests. Finding opponents is difficult because most teams already are into their conference schedules by weeks four and five.
“You’ve got to look long and hard to find a good fit,” Fisher Catholic Athletic Director Tony Hurps said. “It’s a little tough.”
Parker said when the MSL realignment became final, he right away scheduled nonleague football games to avoid the hassle. The Rockets have an aggressive first five games against Liberty Union, Bexley, Nelsonville-York, Danville and East Knox.
“We had started the process pretty early,” Parker said. “We were able to lock (our opponents) in pretty quick. Honestly, it wasn’t that tough for us.”
Fisher Catholic is playing Division III Buckeye Valley in its nonleague slate. Hurps, who also is the Irish’s head football coach, said he is not opposed to scheduling up against more difficult schools. However, one of the consequences of the six-team league and getting rid of the larger schools is possibly having to play some larger schools in nonleague contests.
“It makes it good in a way because it helps if you do get a win against a bigger school,” Hurps said. “Buckeye Valley is obviously a much bigger school. But I’ve always said I’ll schedule up. I think it’ll make us better.”
Basketball teams will have to schedule 12 nonleague games every season. The girls basketball teams in the MSL-Cardinal already had some experience with that in 2012-13, when coaches had to scramble to add games after Harvest Prep did not field a team. In baseball and softball, it will be 17 nonleague contests.
Those are much easier to schedule, Parker said, because nonleague games go throughout the seasons and there always are teams looking to pick up a game or two. The goal for football is to get locked into series with other schools. Once that happens, it will quell the adjustment of having two extra weeks out of the conference for which to accommodate.