Big 8 now officially bigger

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

6 invited schools accept invitations

It is now official.

The six invitations extended by the Big 8 Conference have been accepted and the conference affiliation will expand to 14 teams.

Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, Reeds Spring, Hollister, Springfield Catholic, Marshfield, Logan-Rogersville and Nevada join the existing group of Cassville, Monett, Seneca, McDonald County, East Newton, Lamar, Mt. Vernon and Aurora.

"There is still a lot of work to do," said Doug Martin, Cassville athletic director. "We already have work sessions on the books in order to hammer out several new bylaws that need to be written."

Cassville will benefit with the soccer and wrestling programs now able to compete for all-conference honors.

The goal, according to Martin, is to line up schedules that reduce long drives to mid-week games.

One suggestion offered by Martin was taking the softball and volleyball teams to Nevada on a Friday and playing those games the same night as football game.

However, Martin cautioned that nothing was set in stone and that the schools would be working closely together to make the conference alignment work.

"I have a spreadsheet with about three different [scheduling] scenarios," Martin said. "We want this to be a smooth transition."

On Dec. 21 Reeds Spring became the final school to accept the Big 8 offer. Each school voted unanimously to join the league.

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.

"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 conference will be shaped into East and West divisions. 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, when the current athletic scheduling cycle is complete.

"I'm personally excited for this new conference," Martin said. "I firmly believe it is the right thing for the Big 8 and the right thing for Cassville."

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