The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 14, 2012

Big 9 future in flux?

By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — The Big Nine Conference has 10 teams, which is a math problem already, but that number could grow as other leagues dissolve and schools try to find new affiliation before the 2014-15 seasons.

As of now, according to Mankato activities directors Ken Essay and Todd Waterbury, the conference has no plans to expand, but both acknowledged that with what’s going on elsewhere, the league needs to be prepared.

“It’s something you have to evaluate,” said Essay, the activities director at West. “There are a lot of pieces going in different directions right now, and as a conference, you need to have conversations and be proactive.”

The discussions began this week when it was announced that Farmington has been accepted to join the South Suburban Conference for 2014-15, and Shakopee will likely be applying to that league, leaving the Missota Conference with just six schools.

Chanhassen and Chaska are a package deal that could be attractive to other conferences or could be the foundation of a new conference.

That would leave Red Wing, New Prague, Northfield and Holy Angels remaining in the Missota, which isn’t a sustainable situation. Those teams could try to find a different conference or bring in other teams to form a new conference, but if those individual schools can’t find a solution, it’s possible that the Minnesota State High School League could place those programs into existing conferences.

“We have 10 teams, and we’re happy with that,” said Waterbury, the activities director at Mankato East. “(The 2014-15 seasons) are a little ways down the road, but things could happen before that. When you look at the way things have happened on the college level, you might have something to worry about someday.”

Red Wing was an original member of the Big Nine until resigning from the league in 1982. Northfield was also a member of the conference from 1939-1969.

The Big Nine consists of Mankato East, Mankato West, Albert Lea, Austin, Faribault, Owatonna, Rochester Century, Rochester John Marshall, Rochester Mayo and Winona. Century was the last team to join the Big Nine in 1997, bringing the conference to 10 schools.

Red Wing and Northfield have some merit geographically, but Essay said while no schools have made contact yet, the league needs to prepare for any possibility. According to reports, those teams might determine their plan as early as January.

“No conference wants to be in a position to have teams assigned to it,” Essay said. “That’s why we need to do our research.”