As with any breakup, the formal disolution of the Big 10 Athletic Conference, while not unexpected, still has left some issues unresolved.
The most immediate problem — scheduling games — has been largely settled. The fall and winter league schedules have already been completed, and, for the most part, will be contested, but as non-league games.
The newly independent schools will have the option to not play against a former league rival.
“There were some sports where we did well, others we didn’t,” said Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons athletic director Pat Moran. “We’ll keep some of those rivalries and games, and look into those that aren’t beneficial to us.”
That competitive imbalance caused by wildly divergent enrollment numbers among league schools — along with the loss of as many as three schools, and the dwindling number of options in girls’ sports — were cited as the primary concerns that led to the Big 10’s decision, which was announced Monday night.
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons was one of the two smallest teams in the Big 10.
“I’m excited, sad, a number of emotions,” said Moran. “I’m a Bishop Gibbons graduate, and I’ve had the chance to come back and be the AD.
“It’s difficult. You’ve got schools with 3,000 students to choose from. We’ve got 150.”
The number of students participating in sports wasn’t an issue at the Schenectady Catholic school. It was the number of students in grades six through 12 available to play that was the concern.
“We have 230 kids eligible and out of that, we had a total of 197 playing sports,” said Moran. “It’s not that the interest wasn’t there. We’re not looking for any kind of advantage.
“What this does is give our athletes a chance to be competitive. That’s my first goal as athletic director, to give our athletes a chance, to let them feel that they have a chance to win going into every game.”
Moran will turn his attention to scheduling smaller schools, something he could not do with a full league schedule and a state-imposed ceiling on the number of games permitted.
“It gives us the freedom to schedule some other schools,” he said. “There are some other good programs in the Colonial Council and Western Athletic Conference that I would have liked to schedule, but couldn’t. It gives us a chance to play against teams that are closer to what we have.”
Not that the Golden Knights’ haven’t had some success.
“We just won the girls’ volleyball title,” Moran said. “We’ve been competitive recently in softball. We do OK in running sports.”
In the postseason, playing at the Class A level, the school has won sectional titles in boys’ and girls’ basketball.
Schenectady boys’ varsity basketball coach Eric Loudis thinks the 2015-16 season may be when the effect really hits home.
“I don’t think this year will be that much different because we’ll be playing the same [league schedule] with the exception of not playing Bishop Gibbons,” he said. “The year after, if some of these teams end up in different leagues, then it will hit us.”
Loudis has picked up Niskayuna to make up a four-game hole in his schedule.
“I reached out to them, because they’re close to us and it could be a nice little rivalry,” Loudis said. “And it’s not about the wins and losses. I want to win more games than anyone.
“But it wouldn’t do the kids any good to beat up on teams just to get wins. These days, you also have to figure in the economic side. We haven’t had a freshman team in five years because of the budget.”
Bishop Maginn is in the same situation as ND-BG, with kids that are willing to play, but just not enough of them.
“We are a Class D school [numbers-wise], but we play at the Class AA or Class A level,” said long-time football coach and athletic director Joe Grasso. “We’ll have the option of not playing someone if there’s a competition issue.”
With a projected upturn in incoming classes, Grasso looks at this as a chance to establish more feeder teams.
“This gives us the opportunity to develop more of our non-varsity teams, and not have to have eighth- and ninth-graders playing at the varsity level before they should,” he said. “Some kids had to be on a varsity team because it’s all we had.”
The idea of a league comprised of parochial and private schools has been brought up, but it also has its inherent problems.
Would it be fair to schools like Saratoga Central Catholic or Mekeel Christian Academy to compete against the likes of CBA and LaSalle?
“It’s been talked about,” said Grasso. “But you would need to have enough teams to have different levels.”
Grasso was around when Diocesan League schools Cardinal McCloskey and Vincentian Institute merged to form Bishop Maginn, and Albany High School absorded Phillip Schuyler students 37 years ago.
“Our incoming classes are projected to be bigger,” he said. “We’ve been down to around 150, and we could be back around 200. Down the road, who knows what things will look like?”
For now, this past school year’s winners could be the last to call themselves Big 10 champions.
“I understand the larger schools’ concerns about schools not offering some varsity sports, or not having teams at the other levels,” said Moran. “That was a concern of theirs. Still, we all got along. It was a good league.”