Conference realignment has been a buzz topic in college athletics over the past few years and the Chicago-area high school scene is going through similar changes.
The shift is taking place for both public and private schools. Some are moving from longstanding conferences to new territory, both competitively and geographically.
Changing to a new conference entails more than just making new schedules and resetting GPS bus routes. Craig Etheridge, boys basketball head coach at Westmont, led the Sentinels from the old Southwest Suburban Conference to the Suburban Prairie Conference to their current place in the Interstate Eight Conference.
"It certainly is an adjustment," Etheridge said. "For me, one of the hardest things was leaving behind all the coaches from the first conference and the working relationships and friendships that go along with competing against each other. The next season, working with a new group of guys, it was different and there definitely was an adjustment period."
With several schools making changes, the conference landscape is going to look much different in the near future.
One of the leagues that has seen a major alteration is the DuPage Valley Conference, which has been around since 1975. Lake Park came in from the Upstate Eight Conference while West Chicago moved from the DVC to the UEC beginning with the 2013-14 school year. This fall Glenbard East and West Aurora also move from the DVC to the UEC, leaving the league with just six teams.
Glenbard East football coach John Walters downplayed any major adjustment in entering a new league.
"There's really no secrets going into Friday night," Walters said. "We have an idea of what they're going to do and we have an idea of what we're going to do."
Due to a lack of available opponents, DVC football teams will play non-conference football games in Week 9 against a DVC team they already played earlier in the season. It's a bit clunky, but it's only temporary since Neuqua Valley, Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley are set to join the DVC for the 2015-16 school year to add more power to an already strong conference.
Metro Suburban mixes it up
Another league undergoing an overhaul is the Metro Suburban Conference. Seven schools – IC Catholic, Wheaton Academy, Aurora Central Catholic, St. Edward, Chicago Christian, Walther Christian and Guerin – joined the MSC from the now disbanded Suburban Christian Conference.
The MSC, which will have two divisions, becomes the only football conference with both public and private schools in the Chicago area. Timothy Christian and Illiana Christian were already members of the league, but neither fields a football team. Mixed conferences exist around the state with Boylan Catholic (Rockford), Althoff Catholic (Belleville) and Sacred-Heart Griffin (Springfield) competing against public schools.
"I don't think it changes much," IC Catholic athletic director Tom Schergen said of switching. "It just changes our schedule and teams we're playing. From a geography standpoint it changes our schedule. We're in the West division where everyone is right around us."
In the MSC West, IC will play against former SCC foes ACC and Wheaton Academy along with public schools Riverside Brookfield, Glenbard South and Fenton. This is the first time IC will be in a conference with public schools, but Schergen noted that IC previously played most of the teams in the MSC in non-conference games so a working relationship already existed.
"Maybe it's possibly the first time we play RB in things, but we've played Ridgewood and Elmwood Park before," Schergen said. "Even the private schools, Illiana and Timothy, we've played in things, so it's not all new to us."
The Knights also get a more extended pairing with Timothy Christian. The two Elmhurst schools already scheduled each other in non-conference games in numerous sports along with being paired together for just about every IHSA postseason regional.
RB boys basketball coach Tom McCloskey, who tries to schedule the Bulldogs against top competition regularly, welcomed the new competition.
"I think the new conference will be tougher," McCloskey said. "Some tougher schools with great basketball traditions. It's just a new situation."
He doesn't believe playing with more private schools will change the dynamic of the league.
"I didn't think that was a much of a factor at all," McCloskey said. "Some of the schools, Wheaton Academy and the others, have strong basketball traditions and it's a priority at their school."
New-look Catholic league
The remaining SCC schools, including Montini and St. Francis, were left looking for a new home. Marian Central Catholic joined the East Suburban Catholic Conference and the rest joined the Chicago Chicago League for just football and boys soccer this year.
In 2015, all of the boys sports will be members of the CCL while the girls sports will be joining the GCAC.
"To me personally, it is absolute excitement," St. Francis athletic director Dan Hardwick said about the conference changes over the next two years. "Both of these leagues have been bending over backwards for us, that is the best way to put it. They've been so accommodating and they've been so excited to get us in their leagues.
"It's going to be a challenge but we are relishing the challenge. That is all part of the excitement."
Did you know?
Facts about schools switching conferences
• When Glenbard South left the DuPage Valley Conference for the 1996-1997 school year the Raiders had an enrollment of 1,241 students. The rest of the DVC schools all had an enrollment of more than 2,100 students. In the new Metro Suburban West, the Raiders' enrollment of 1,274 is third-biggest out of six schools and above the league average enrollment of 1,004.
• All four Glenbard District 87 high schools are now in different conferences with Glenbard East's move from the DVC to the Upstate Eight. Glenbard North is still in the DVC, Glenbard West is an original member of the West Suburban Conference and Glenbard South is in the Metro Suburban Conference.
• This fall will mark the eighth different combination of conference opponents for Riverside Brookfield in football since 1997. RB is in the newly-formed Metro Suburban West with Aurora Central Catholic, Fenton, IC Catholic, Glenbard South and Wheaton Academy. This is the first time during that period that RB won't be in the same conference as Elmwood Park.
• If Glenbard East had stayed in the DVC, which now consists of Glenbard North, Lake Park, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South, the Rams would have had to fight history on the football field. The Rams haven't won a football game against any of those schools since 2003.
• This is the second straight year that West Chicago will have a new look to its schedule in most sports. The Wildcats joined the Upstate Eight Valley last school year and shift over to the Upstate Eight River starting this fall, where they will face seven new conference foes.