Big 8 Conference expanding 14 schools

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Conference to divide into East, West divisions

Big 8 high schools principals are set to expand the conference to an unprecedented 14 teams, which will take effect in the 2018 school year.

The Conference's previous high of 13 teams was in 1976. According to Doug Martin, Cassville athletic director, the benefits for Cassville High School are huge.

"The biggest thing is student recognition," Martin said. "Soccer, tennis, golf and wrestling will not compete for conference titles and that means a lot to the schools and students."

Martin also noted the benefit just is not sports related.

"This new conference provides opportunities for our school for our academic programs," he said. "We can have a Big 8 Art Show, knowledge bowl or speech and debate tournament. I will always support those initiatives."

Joining the Big 8 are: Logan-Rogersville, Springfield Catholic, Reeds Spring, Hollister, Marshfield and Nevada. The current Big 8 Conference membership includes: East Newton, Cassville, Monett, McDonald County, Aurora, Lamar, Mt. Vernon and Seneca school districts.

"We still have several scheduling obstacles to hash out, especially in football," Daryl Bradley, Monett athletic director said. "We have several models that we are looking at, the SEC (Southeastern Conference) is one that we could follow."

Bradley said the conference would like to keep its traditional rivalries, but understands that some may go by the wayside.

As far as the name, the conference plans to keep the Big 8 moniker.

"The Big 8 is recognized and synonymous with southwest Missouri," Bradley said. "Preliminary talk is to keep the name, despite having 14 teams."

The Big 8 Conference superintendents, principals, and athletic directors met and approved expansion options that would provide for more conference opportunities in academic and athletic events for member school districts.

The move follows recent changes in the Big 8 Conference, as Carl Junction transitioned into the Central Ozark Conference following the acceptance of McDonald County School District into the Big 8. This move now sets up a conference that represents a diverse demographic of southwest Missouri and extremely successful school districts.

The Big 8 evaluated the expansion options and focused on an equitable plan that met the needs of each school district. Cassville Athletic Director Doug Martin understood the potential the conference expansion meant to the conference, but also recognized that expansion to 14 teams would be no small task.

"The Big 8 Conference has an outstanding reputation in the entire state, and we had to get this right if it were going to be successful and, most important, be good for our students," Martin said. "We knew that it would take all of our school districts committing to those core values, sportsmanship, and academic expectations that have earned us the reputation we have within the region and state."

The Big 8 Conference will be shaped into an East and West conference division. The West Division includes: McDonald County, Monett, Nevada, Cassville, East Newton, Seneca, and Lamar; the East Division includes: Marshfield, Logan-Rogersville, Aurora, Reeds Spring, Springfield Catholic, Hollister, and Mt. Vernon.

This conference division meets the scheduling needs of the football programs while preserving traditional rivalries and bringing in new matchups. In other sports, like basketball and volleyball, the division platform preserves the opportunities for individual school districts to schedule games outside the division with schools that more closely represent their demographic size and travel needs. The addition of six new schools provides the opportunity for potentially eight current sports or events to be considered "conference" and provide students with additional recognition for conference awards even within divisions.

The Big 8 Conference expansion and realignment process will begin in January 2017, but the official conference affiliation and division schedules won't take effect until the 2018 school year until the current athletic scheduling cycle is complete.

This plan is also tentative, as it is contingent on the new school districts formally accepting the invitation to join the Big 8.

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