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Doug Wolter: Much is at stake in conference talks

There are so many issues involved in the ongoing Southwest Conference/South Central Conference merger discussions that it almost boggles the mind.

Travel issues. Enrollment issues. Rivalry issues.

Configuration issues. One superconference? An east and west division?

And so on.

Even so, it’s exciting to think about. And an awful lot of work has been done, and is still being done, to ensure that school boards will have all the information they need to vote up or down on the subject when it comes time to make a final decision.

That could come in early November, when reams of information submitted by athletic directors and carefully digested by superintendents percolate in the minds of school board members who will ultimately decide the question for their own schools.

There’s no name for the conference yet. Why would there be? It still doesn’t exist. But one of the proposed names floating around — The Great Southern Plains Conference, or GSPC — seems suitably impressive for the undertaking at hand. If every district approves the change, Southwest Conference schools Luverne, Pipestone Area, Worthington, Marshall, Windom Area, Redwood Valley and Jackson County Central would join hands with South Central Conference schools St. James, Fairmont, New Ulm, St. Peter, Waseca and Blue Earth Area to become one big, happy family.

There are important advantages to forming such a conglomeration. There would be plenty of conference opponents to choose from, rivalries could be maintained, and the prospect of sending small-enrollment schools like Windom Area to play football against large-enrollment schools like Marshall would be reduced.

Whether the merger actually happens, of course, depends on how well the disadvantages are massaged.

I spoke this week with Pipestone Area athletic director Bob Nangle, who from my point of view is uniquely qualified to weigh in on the weighty subject. Not surprisingly, not every athletic director is happy to talk to the media about the issue at this stage. There are just too many decisions yet to be determined, and the final say doesn’t rest with the ADs anyway.

But Nangle, who is set to retire at the conclusion of this school year, is the dean of athletic directors in southwest Minnesota. He is in his 41st year on the job in Pipestone.

I asked him about the proposed name. Pretty impressive, I said.

“I kind of like Southern Mini, myself,” he said.

Bob always had a good sense of humor. But he’s also excited about the possibilities, though he’s understandably reluctant to get too far ahead in the process.

“It’s a situation that none of us are trying to say too much, because all the superintendents are going to meet in a couple of weeks,” he explained.

Those supers are going to look at a wealth of information detailing travel costs and scheduling issues, among other things.

For instance, they will be able to compare transportation costs for the current school year with transportation cost scenarios in a possible SWC/SCC merged conference. They’ll look at class time lost for schools needing to send their athletes farther to participate in games and matches.

Nangle said they’ll also consider the possibility of more Saturday contests. Why? Because scheduling Saturday events don’t cut into the school day.

Another person uniquely qualified to discuss the merger is Redwood Valley superintendent Rick Ellingworth, a former athletic director himself. Ellingworth explains that by the end of this month every district’s school board member should have the information necessary to make a decision, and he predicts that a vote to go forward — or not —might happen at their November board meetings.

What’s especially noteworthy is that every school votes for itself, independently.

“If 11 or nine or eight want to move forward, that will be the conference,” said Ellingworth.

But it appears as if all the school districts are putting their best foot forward to make this work. It makes sense to get it done, because being left out “in the cold” could leave individual schools in a very unenviable position. They’d either have to find another conference to join or manufacture independent schedules for all their athletic offerings.

That could be pretty difficult for football, or hockey. Some schools would have a more difficult time finding opponents of a comparable enrollment size, for instance, and finding them without having to transport them long distances.

It’s a prospect not lost on Nangle. “Pipestone and Luverne really don’t have any place to go,” he said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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