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Changing course: Three Rivers will have different look

Bureau Valley athletic director Jeff Ohlson remembered back to his Princeton High School basketball playing days, when Princeton competed in the now defunct North Central Illinois Conference.

Of Ohlson's memories, the ones that particularly stick out was playing in a number of different gymnasiums, such as Sterling's Musgrove Field House and Ottawa's gym.

"Everybody played everybody," Ohlson said. "It made for some fun memories and conference unity which is something you don't see much anymore. We got to play in so many places."

Beginning in the 2015-16 season, the Three Rivers Conference will follow that model and shift to an open 15-team conference format, eliminating divisions in all sports except for football.

The upcoming 2014-15 school year will also experience a change as the conference adjusted from its North-South split, to an East-West format.

Football is the only sport that is not affected by the recent changes, and will continue to be played under the current North-South system because of the fewer games played, making scheduling games easier in the division format, and allows for division standings which are crucial to postseason seeding.

"The logistics of football's season is different," Ohlson said. "Having only nine games makes sense for football to remain North-South."

Many believe that the shift to the open conference in the 2015-16 school year is beneficial for the athletes who will now be able to see and compete against a wide variety of play styles, athletes, skill and competition level.

The shift also hopes to create a more stable conference with each school facing every team in the conference at least once each season. Ohlson pointed out that other large conferences, like the 15-team TRAC, can feel like two separate conference's because some teams won't play teams in the other division for years.

"I really like it," said Dave Peugh, Morrison's boys basketball coach. "It reminds me of the old NCIC, and I thought that was great. It means every game against these 14 other schools will be a big game that you will be scouting and game planning for."

While Ohlson, and the majority of the schools' representatives in the conference who pushed the vote through agree that the 15-team no division format is beneficial, some oppose the idea because the merge creates a larger area of travel to necessary conference games.

Amboy girls basketball coach Mike McCracken is not in favor of the conference's recent changes, citing that the large, singular division will create longer travel times for the Clippers who are already alienated in the northeast section of the area.

"Some schools are way out there," McCracken said. "We are on the east side of everything."

He also noted that he liked the idea of having two division champions, which allows schools with small enrollment numbers such as Amboy, to have a shot at winning a title. That goes out the window with the merger allowing just one champion.

"I like the idea of two champs," he said. "I think that's foolish, because with one champ, and us being a small school down to 235 [kids], it makes it hard for us to compete with these bigger schools we've added to our conference."

To appease schools on the geographical edges of the conference such as eastern schools Amboy, St. Bede and Hall, and western schools in Rockridge, Sherrard and Riverdale, attempts will be made to schedule games between those schools with long bus rides on Saturday's. Tuesday's aim to be the day for closer matchups, though it might not always work out.

"I don't see any benefit in going to Rockridge for us," McCracken said. "What I wonder is if you're going to play a Rockridge for instance, what time do you have to leave school? Not to mention what time we would get home."

Morrisson baseball coach Ben Sondgeroth spoke about running into time issues whether it be arriving home late, or leaving early in order to make it to games on time.

He notes that his players will have to miss around 45 minutes of school during far away games.

Morrisson's classes end at 3:05 p.m., but in order to reach a game 90 minutes away like some schools in the conference, the bus must leave by 2:20 p.m. to arrive on time so the players have adequate time to warm up.

"It will mean a lot of early outs for the kids which isn't the best thing." Sondgeroth said. "We let the kids know all of our travel times at the beginning of year, and they know it's their responsibility to make up assignments or tests."

Scheduling may also be tricky in the spring, as spring sports fans know the weather is often bad. So playing long distance conference games on Saturday's might not be an option if the day is overbooked with makeups.

Even with several issues, the representatives believe the changes are in the best interest of the kids.

"Ultimately we want to provide the best opportunity for the athletes and the kids to succeed." Ohlson said.

Three Rivers Conference division alignment for 2014-15

East division

Newman, Amboy, Bureau Valley, Princeton, Hall, St. Bede and Kewanee

West division

Fulton, Morrison, Riverdale, Erie, Prophetstown, Orion, Sherrard and Rockridge

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