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Room for one more?

Dixon hopes to benefit from change in conference

Dixon's Matt Coffey drives past a Geneseo defender during a Northern Illinois Big 12 West game last winter. The Dukes finished second in the NIB-12 West in hoops in their final season in the conference. They'll transition to the Big Northern this winter.
Dixon's Matt Coffey drives past a Geneseo defender during a Northern Illinois Big 12 West game last winter. The Dukes finished second in the NIB-12 West in hoops in their final season in the conference. They'll transition to the Big Northern this winter.

When the spring sports season ended a few weeks ago, so did Dixon's affiliation with the Northern Illinois Big 12 conference.

Starting this fall, the Dukes will be joining the Big Northern Conference, where two area schools – Rock Falls and Oregon – already call home.

Dixon's arrival, along with Johnsburg's addition to the BNC East, increases the size of the BNC to a 16-team conference, and the Dukes hope their change of conference will help smooth out the competition level in its athletic programs, as well as the atmosphere at the games.

"In the [NIB 12] we were one of the smallest schools and some were double our size," Dixon athletic director Karen Price said. "Now, we are comparable in size in the Big Northern and we feel like we can compete."

The move makes sense for Dixon for several reasons. The first is that its athletic teams will have a much shorter ride when traveling to away events, and a given game or event won't take up as much time once the travel time is reduced.

Of the five other teams that made up Dixon's conference mates in the NIB 12 West, Sterling was the closest drive at around 12 miles. The next closest drive was LaSalle-Peru, which was nearly 46 miles away. Geneseo and Ottawa were 60 miles, while Streator was nearly 77.

Price says that the shorter travel distance can help even out start time for games, and simplify the process. Events can start at the normal 4:30 p.m. start time instead of pushing some events back another hour to 5 or 5:30 p.m. when eliminating most of the long drives.

"That was definitely one of the factors," Price said. "The big thing is geography and enrollment, and where you fit in."

Price also estimates that the crowd attendance at the games will go up significantly compared with previous years. The easier accessibility for parents, classmates and family members to attend a given away game for both schools should up the attendance and create a more lively atmosphere.

"Fanbase wise, our crowds will be bigger and it will allow us, and the other schools, to start some new rivalries, Price said. "Pretty soon we might have one with Oregon or Rock Falls when it used to be all about Sterling and Dixon.

"It doesn't mean that the Sterling game won't still be big, but it allows for other rivalries to enter the mix."

Another aspect that Dixon is excited for is it will compete against schools that are similarly sized. The conference schools that Dixon faced in the NIB 12 were larger than the schools that the Dukes will face next season in the BNC.

Dixon was the smallest school in its conference in the NIB 12, nearly 50 students away from the next closest school, and almost half the size of its largest conference member, Yorkville.

Now, the Dukes will be near the top in the BNC.

"Enrollment-wise, the schools are more comparable to us," Price said. "When we were in the Big 12, we played schools that were twice as big as we are. We know that there will be good basketball and good soccer programs in the [BNC], as well as the bigger sports, so we will have good competition to build from."

The move, however, does present an issue for coaches who have not coached in a conference of this size like the BNC.

In general, most coaches try to schedule nonconference opponents that suit their team's needs. If a team projects to be talented enough to compete with the top teams in the state, often times that coach would like to schedule tough nonconference opponents in order to be better prepared later in the season.

Conversely, a school in a rebuilding phase might schedule nonconference opponents that suit their talent level, in order for younger players to gain experience and grow accustomed to playing together.

"It all depends on the makeup of your teams," Dixon boys basketball coach Jason Mead said.

This fall presents an issue as coaches will have less wriggle room when scheduling nonconference opponents. Since the BNC will have 16 teams upon Dixon's arrival in the fall, conference games eat up a lot of the schedule.

"This year, I was going to gear a lot of our nonconference games to be against competitive teams," Mead said. "I'd like to play 4A schools and really good 3A schools, because I think we can be very competitive this season."

But Mead is only able to schedule one nonconference game due to the conference-heavy schedule this season, combined with the three tournaments that the Dukes will play in – Orion's tournament, Plano's Christmas tournament and Sterling's Martin Luther King Jr. tournament.

"It's new for me and I have to learn how to schedule in a bigger conference," Mead said. "It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just different."

Though the 16-team conference presents several new issues and many upsides, it might all change again in another 2 years. Four BNC teams have been poached by the now seven-team Kishwaukee River Conference, which will be operational in the 2016-17 school year.

Schools generally must give their current conference a 2-year notification upon leaving, and it's anyone's guess as to what other schools may follow suit in the recent conference realignment fad.

Burlington Central, Harvard, Richmond-Burton and Marengo are the four schools that will be leaving the BNC. Those schools compete in the east division, but the conference must be reshuffled come the 2016-17 season.

But worrying about that is for another time.

"I can understand those communites on the east wanting to be closer," Price said. "It was one of the reasons we moved as well. A lot of it is just geography. But we still have another 2 years before that starts taking effect."

Diving distance to away events in NIB 12 West

Shortest: Sterling – 12.3 miles

Longest: Streator – 76.6 miles

Average: 51.08 miles

Distance to away events in BNC West

Shortest: Rock Falls 13.6 miles

Longest: Rockford Lutheran – 57.6 miles

Average distance: 30.5 miles

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