UEC needs a different lookStreamwood's Deji Giwa (14) takes down East Aurora's Chris Shaw (6) during the first quarter at Streamwood High School in Streamwood, Ill., on Friday, September 23, 2011.
| Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
Updated: September 29, 2011 9:21PM
Year two of the new Upstate Eight Conference is coming to a quick end as we head toward the last third of the regular season, which should have school principals and athletic directors looking at how they can improve the competitive balance within the conference.
They went the easy way in creating the River and Valley divisions at the outset, with big schools in the Valley and small schools in the River. It wasn’t a flawed premise, but it may be time to examine how successful this alignment has been for all 14 of its members.
At first, I thought moving up the River champion to the Valley and dropping the last place Valley member to the River could be a solution — and it still might be — but perhaps a grander reshuffle is needed.
The U-46 school district (Bartlett, Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin and Streamwood) is facing budget concerns that are limiting, if not eliminating, lower level programs altogether. This year, only Bartlett is fielding a varsity of more than 39 players.
Then there’s East Aurora, which hasn’t had more than 45 varsity players on the opening-week roster in the last five years, putting it more on par with teams like Kaneland, Marmion, Aurora Central Catholic and Yorkville. Programs like Sandwich and Plano aren’t much smaller.
Success in football is often predicated on health and roster depth and when players start getting hurt at East, the Tomcats just can’t keep up with Geneva or Batavia, let alone Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and St. Charles North.
It’s not a matter of coaching, talent or desire — it’s simple math.
These smaller teams can’t hold competitive practices, let alone keep up with teams boasting nearly double the roster size.
It’s no one’s fault — it’s just the way it is.
And the results, unfortunately, can’t be ignored. Since the Tomcats’ last winning season in 2000, the team has gone 6-89. It has lost 26 straight overall and 21 straight in conference play (including crossovers). Frankly, the Tomcats’ most competitive games over the last decade have come against Elgin, Larkin, Streamwood and Lake Park.
It’s not a stretch to say the fact that all these teams have roughly the same amount of players might have something to do with it.
Basing divisions on roster sizes can be tough — all it takes is one class to join a team by the dozens to skew things — but in this conference they’ve remained fairly constant. Geneva has been between 64 and 76 the last five years. Since Metea Valley opened, Waubonsie Valley has been at about 70 to 80. Batavia is “down” this year with 57 on its roster, but has been at about 70 players in years prior.
Seeing as how other conferences around the state shift teams within divisions on a yearly basis, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that administrators in the Upstate Eight can move teams around based on roster size, or by just looking at the numbers on the lower levels.
Doing so in two-year windows seems reasonable, and it will keep things balanced should a program experience a significant surge or a downturn in participation.
It’s only been two years, but we’re just not seeing an overall competitive balance in the Upstate Eight. It’s time for a different look.