Conference realignment is starting to heat up as a big topic in Kansas sports, but for once, not on the college level.
From Kansas City to Topeka, a few and potentially a lot of new schools may be finding new leagues ahead, with five current leagues affected. Or perhaps even a new league on the horizon, with the first big step tonight.
KAW VALLEY ON BRINK
The lead domino has been the developments of the Kaw Valley League, which recently lost Mill Valley to the Eastern Kansas League two years ago, and looks to lose a few more members on the horizon.
Recently, three members of the KVL - Bonner Springs, Tonganoxie and Piper - presented to join the Frontier League, with the three receiving and accepting invitations to the league in April.
So initially, per Kaw Valley League bylaws, the trio would likely join the Frontier League at the earliest in 2019-20, and with the KSHSAA football two-year cycle, 2020-21 for football.
The attrition is in addition to Bishop Ward, which has asked to leave after next school year. While not officially confirmed via vote, the league members have already agreed for Ward's departure after the upcoming 2017-18 season. Ward will then join the Crossroads League with the likes of Barstow, Kansas City Christian, Maranatha and others.
The remaining three schools – Basehor-Linwood, Lansing and Turner – have mulled over letting Bonner, Piper and Tongie joining the Frontier League earlier as they desire, which possibly would mean the final year of the Kaw Valley League would be after the 2017-18 season.
Without additional movement, the Frontier League would initially look to be:
The Kaw Valley League then would be:
Sssoooo... What next?
NEW LEAGUE ON HORIZON?
The trio didn’t wait and went on the offensive, as they recently sent out correspondence to align 5A schools in eastern Kansas together in a new league. Lansing, Basehor, Turner looked to attract Leavenworth, the lone 5A in the Sunflower League, as well as correspondence to Desoto and Spring Hill from the Frontier League, and Centennial League 5A brethren in the likes of Shawnee Heights, Seaman, Highland Park and Topeka West. However, at this time, only Shawnee Heights is interested in joining the new league immediately.
Last week, six schools met to discuss the new league possibilities, and present to their school boards. The three to present to their school boards during May meetings are Shawnee Heights, Desoto and Leavenworth, with a May 26 deadline of submitting if the schools are in or out of the newly proposed league. A long-term goal of eight schools would be ideal for the league, with some initially interested.
While not attending the meeting, sources say Spring Hill remains highly interested in joining the possible league after the upcoming cycle, in the 2020-21 school year.
If all the rumored schools are involved in the new league, it could be comprised of:
Other future candidates: Seaman 1,184; Topeka West 1,073; Highland Park 866; Spring Hill 699
* Based off 2016-17 KSHSAA enrollment listing.
TAKING TO NEW HEIGHTS
On Monday night, Shawnee Heights was the first of the three schools (which would have to depart a league), to present a discussion to their school board. David Wonnell, SHHS athletic director, opened a 56-minute discussion with a handout for each board member, then gave a history of the Centennial League when the league expanded and member schools were similar in size. Now enrollments for Washburn Rural (1,896), Topeka (1,818) and Manhattan (1,694) outsizes such schools as Shawnee Heights (1,123) and Highland Park (866).
A history of league finishes was presented, and that the only years Heights competed for league titles were state championship teams, while other athletic programs haven't competed. In last four years, SHHS has won 7 of 132 possible league titles in boys sports, with the seven being state championship teams.
A look at the seeding in the current state football playoff structure showed that in an eight-game seeding, that at least one home game is lost due to the bad regular season record, and in 2014's semifinal run, Heights would've played all games on the road due to their regular-season record in the Centennial League.
Wonnell also noted that travel time would be shorter on the east side of the state than the long trips to Emporia, Manhattan and Junction City.
"It's not about winning league titles, but what it does for our kids," Wonnell said. "It boosts school spirit, it boosts morale... competing for league titles changes the atmosphere in your hallways."
After Wonnell, coaches from various sports spoke about needing an even playing field, and a league of schools their size. In the last 11 years, Shawnee Heights is 41-14 vs 5A competition in football.
School board members asked about rivalries and repercussions of leaving the Centennial League, as well as scheduling non-league games. Wonnell expressed that Heights had requested about not playing the larger schools, but the league declined the request to scheduling.
Board members opinions varied, as some were immediately for the league move, while others wanted to wait until the next board meeting to decide. The board stated that while a vote isn't necessary to change leagues, it was highly recommended. Some members wanted to vote on Monday night, but it was decided to hold a vote at the next board meeting in two weeks, on May 15.
810 Varsity observations and rumors
- If DeSoto and eventually Spring Hill left the Frontier, an even number remains in the Frontier.
- Being at six teams, the new league would be hopeful in eventually landing eight teams. Candidates would be Spring Hill and then possibly a Seaman or Highland Park – or a return of Bonner Springs.
- Blue Valley Southwest also could be a candidate, though leaving the Eastern Kansas League from its fellow Blue Valley district schools would be a giant step.
- While other Topeka schools balked at the first pass of a new league, there is a feeling that some may observe what happens with Shawnee Heights and make a possible move in future years.
Then finally, what if such a league doesn't form, and the three KVL schools remain out of a league...
Turner: become independent or join the KCKAL
Lansing: the EKL has an odd number of members and with being a 5A school with new facilities and with Lansing participating in most sports, would be the EKL's top current option under that criteria. But Desoto at 5A and in the same school district as Mill Valley also could be an option, or if Blue Valley expands to another school, those options also would even up the EKL.
Another long shot could be find a partner to join the Sunflower League for a 16-team league (Desoto? Mill Valley?) and make two eight-team divisions with Leavenworth and the five Shawnee Missions for a North division...
Basehor-Linwood: the irony here is that BLHS originally applied and tentatively accepted to the Frontier League in 2012. But then Bonner, Piper and Tongie also jumped into the bandwagon and all were declined as a bulk package in the attempt. Now five years later, its Basehor left out of the Frontier.
So, where does it leave Basehor? The KCKAL would be tough for football competition, and the Big Seven, the next closest non-Frontier 4A option, would be eons of travel. So in an isolated situation, either independent, or keep lobbying to get into the Frontier.
But with lots of ongoing talks and proposals that would make the head spin of pundits of the BCS days, options should be ahead.
810 Varsity's Jim McClintock contributed to this article.
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