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Sports Column | Bucky Dent: Does Mississippi need to make move?

Sports Column | Bucky Dent: Does Mississippi need to make move?

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Your move, SIRR Mississippi.

Or is it?

General perception suggests the smaller of the two divisions in the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference has to think about expanding by this time next year. Sparta is leaving next June in order to join the Cahokia Conference, which is likely to expand to 18 schools by Thursday night, when Chester’s school board is expected to approve high school administrators’ request to leave the Black Diamond for the Cahokia.

The departure of Sparta will leave the Mississippi with five schools. IHSA rules require that six schools reside in a conference in order for it to be eligible to automatically place its regular season champion into the football postseason.

But Anna-Jonesboro principal/football coach Brett Detering said Tuesday morning that any move towards SIRR expansion will be about finding the right fit, as opposed to finding any kind of fit.

“Some schools who might be good fits geographically might be on the smaller side,” he said. “And you have other schools who would be long rides for everyone, even though they might have good athletic programs.

“There’s not a lot of options out there, but if anyone wants to talk, we’ll certainly consider it.”

While one should learn to never say never when it comes to expansion possibilities, that would seem to draw a big X through the possibility of Johnston City waving goodbye to the BDC. The Williamson County school’s enrollment of 339 students is smaller than Sparta’s 342, and most of its athletic programs would have trouble winning in the Mississippi.

What’s more, Chester’s likely decision to leave the BDC will aid Johnston City. The Indians are likely to get to move from East to West, which will allow them to play Goreville, Sesser-Valier, Zeigler-Royalton and Christopher twice a year in all other sports besides football.

Assuming that Johnston City stays put, who does that leave? Not a whole lot, realistically. Detering said that Breese Mater Dei inquired last year about joining the conference. The Knights would add much prestige in multiple sports, such as volleyball, softball, boys basketball and football. But if you thought it took a while to drive from A-J to Nashville (and vice-versa), wait until you sit through a ride from Union County to Breese.

It's also possible that SIRR could make an overture to Mount Carmel about becoming a football member only. The Golden Aces have been a consistent winner for most of the last 40 years, missing the playoffs only five times. Their enrollment of 488 would likely put them in the Mississippi.

Then again, Detering isn’t all that worried about the repercussions of only having five football-playing schools in the Mississippi.

“I looked it up the other day and I think the last 23 years, the winner of this conference would have qualified for the playoffs anyway,” he said. “A sixth school would be nice to have, but I don’t know if it affects our division much.”

A potential issue both Detering and Pinckneyville athletic director/boys basketball coach Bob Waggoner touched on is scheduling. If the Mississippi can’t find a sixth member, its schools will have to find a non-conference opponent in weeks 4-8, when most schools are locked into conference games.

“That’s something where you might have to look at going out of state or getting together with another conference,” Waggoner said.

Simply put, there are issues on the table for the Mississippi. But if there’s a move to be made, it’s not going to be pushed into it.

Bucky Dent covers prep sports for the Southern Illinoisan and also votes on the Wooden Award. He can be reached at 618-351-5086 or at bucky.dent@thesouthern.com

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