By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
The Big Nine Conference voted Wednesday to expand.
By two, however. Not three.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to add two schools to our conference," Mankato East activities director Todd Waterbury said. "They're two schools that do the majority of things the same way as our schools, as far as competition and size. These are good schools and good communities, and they fit well with what we have."
As expected, Big Nine officials voted unanimously to approve adding Red Wing and Northfield to the conference, beginning with the 2014-15 seasons. New Prague also applied for inclusion to the Big Nine but was denied, also by a unanimous vote. Red Wing and Northfield both had previous affiliation with the Big Nine and were the first to apply for membership, two things that worked for those schools.
"I have a lot of respect for the people and community of New Prague," Mankato West activities director Ken Essay said. "They'll find a conference, but it just isn't a great fit for us at this time."
Red Wing was an original member of the league, which was called the Big Eight when formed in 1928, but Red Wing left the league in 1982. Northfield was a member of the Big Nine from 1934-1968. Red Wing and Northfield were members of the Missota Conference, which will dissolve after next season.
Waterbury and Essay said that ideas were floated around about how the new conference would work for scheduling, though they said that they will talk with their coaches to get some feedback.
"Things could change for some sports," Waterbury said. "We just don't know yet."
The Big Nine currently includes East, West, Faribault, Owatonna, Winona, Austin, Albert Lea, Rochester Century, Rochester Mayo and Rochester John Marshall.
"It's an exciting opportunity for growth," Essay said. "There are a lot of changes, not just for us, but also in the Twin Cities. I think we have 12 great schools."