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Scott Hamilton may not want to talk about who is coming and going from the Okaw Valley Conference, but that’s not going to stop me from speculating.
I did a column in spring about how the Little Okaw Valley Conference’s realignment could create a ripple effect through East Central Illinois, and made some predictions then. For the most part I was wrong with those picks, but I was on the right path. I may be wrong again, but here’s what I think, or what I think will be best, in the OVC.
Who is going: Argenta-Oreana, Central A&M, Meridian, Shelbyville, Sullivan, Warrensburg-Latham.
Tuscola is the only team among the seven contemplating leaving I think will actually stick around, which is definitely for the best.
After multipliers are applied, Tuscola is the second smallest team in the OVC. Their enrollment of 289 is nearly 300 students less than Monticello, the largest school. Notwithstanding that, Tuscola is one of the most competitive teams in the conference in many sports.
While a conference with the other six smaller schools would offer the Warriors a pretty clear path to dominance, the best competition will still be in the OVC. Rivalries with Unity and Monticello are another strong reason to stick around, and I think when everything is considered Tuscola will choose to stick it out with the OVC.
The departing teams have offered some good competition, but really won’t be missed. They are the furthest west and south teams, and will do better in a conference on their own.
Who is coming: St. Thomas More, St. Joseph-Ogden
At this point the only two no-brainer schools for the OVC are Champaign’s St. Thomas More and St. Joseph-Ogden. The two would extend the reach of the league only slightly east, but not so much as to add considerable mileage for the likes of St. T or Maroa.
Both schools are in the Sangamon Valley Conference currently, but after the departure of Cullom Tri-Point last year, the conference is weak, with just seven teams in football, and skewed very heavily to the north.
Instead of going east of Kankakee to play Momence, I have to assume the decision makers at STM and SJ-O would prefer to play in Tolono or Monticello on a yearly basis.
SJ-O is the first school in the OVC if anyone bolts. Superintendent Jim Acklin confirmed the district would be interested if they got an invite, so consider them an OVC team in two years.
STM football is on the rise, and after 10-plus years in existence they have developed a great rivalry with Unity and SJ-O. The chance to play them both in conference, and get out of the dying SVC, would be too great to pass up, so they are in as well.
With SJ-O and STM – and Tuscola sticking it out – the OVC would have an eight team conference absolutely loaded with football talent – and that’s what this is all really about, isn’t it?
There are losers in this scenario, namely PBL. The Panthers would be stuck in the SVC or as an independent team for football. But PBL isn’t very good at football anyway, so it’s of little consequence.
Other schools left out of the fun include Rantoul and Olympia. The current set up of the Corn Belt conference, however, seems to be a good one and Rantoul, at least, has shown no signs of wanting change. Both schools would immediately be the biggest in the OVC as well, and Olympia would require a long drive for everyone except Clinton.
With the addition of SJ-O and STM, the OVC could very easily retain its prestige and, perhaps, become an even better conference.