Area volleyball is getting screwed this fall, and football is to blame.
Let’s face it, all the movement, shuffling, expanding and dissolution of area conferences is because of football, which is king and rules most area athletic departments.
It’s understandable. Football is usually the most popular and highest-attended sport at many local schools, and oftentimes the biggest source of community pride.
Heck, I myself even love football, and I’m such a big fan that I volunteered to cover three football games last weekend — and loved every minute of it — but let’s be honest, if a school can’t compete in football, it generally leads to a search for a new conference (anyone remember Kewanee or Streator?).
However, football — and all the conference dancing — is directly impacting other sports at area schools, including volleyball, and its harming volleyball.
Now in my 11th year covering high school sports in the area, I’ve grown accustomed to all the conference moves, but with it have come the casualties of the local volleyball rivalries.
Yes, some rivalries are still intact — La Salle-Peru vs. Ottawa, Putnam County vs. Hall, St. Bede vs. Marquette and St. Bede, Hall and Princeton all still play one another in the Three Rivers Conference South Division, but really, there’s not too many more.
And half of those listed are conference opponents.
There’s no Putnam County vs. St. Bede. No St. Bede vs. Mendota. No Mendota vs. Princeton. And no Princeton vs. Bureau Valley.
And that’s just a shame.
Nothing is more exciting than seeing neighboring communities battle in athletics.
The loss of the rivalries is to no fault of the volleyball teams or coaches, some of whom have privately objected to his or her school’s change in conference.
Instead, coaches and teams are oftentimes drug into new conferences, which have grown to use the home-and-home divisional format with at least one or two mandatory crossover games.
In a sport in which teams are allowed by the IHSA to play in four tournaments and 15 regular season games, all the conference-mandated matches are taking up too many valuable non-conference matches.
In the newly-expanded Three Rivers Conference, St. Bede, Hall and Princeton all play 12 divisional conference matches and are required to play one crossover match. That means those teams have just two non-conference matches they can schedule.
In the Big Northern Conference, Mendota is in the exact same situation. It has 12 conference matches, one crossover and two non-conference matches.
In the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference, La Salle-Peru and Ottawa have 10 conference matches and are not mandated to play any crossovers this season, but L-P plays four schools from the other division simply to make scheduling easier.
Ottawa only plays Interstate-80 rival Morris.
So why does anything this whinny sports writer say matter?
For one, as someone who watches more volleyball than any coach, player or parent this side of Laurie Polte, it’s more exciting and enjoyable to see local teams play and find out who is the best team in our area (remember the 2010 NCIC volleyball? That was incredible). I care more about that than if our teams are better than schools 1-2 hours away.
Secondly, the lack of non-conference games are directly impacting local schools that have non-conference dates to fill. Putnam County and Princeton are two schools that had trouble filling their schedules after other teams dumped them.
Thirdly — and most importantly — how are teams supposed to seed for the regional? Schools often use non-conference matches to play teams they expect to be paired with in the regional. Without those extra matches, teams are voting on regional seeds without knowing a team other than its results.
And that’s just not right.
Whether you want to admit it or not, football is to blame.
If football hadn’t inspired all the conference moving, we may just still have the local conference known as the NCIC.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at sports@ newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.