Meeting Positive Despite Some Schools Considering Saying “Bye-Bye” To Big Eight

McCutchanville (NNDC) – The overall tone of Wednesday’s Big Eight Conference athletic directors meeting was positive even as some schools are considering leaving the league.

Last week, the Princeton Clarion reported both Boonville and Mt. Vernon has approached the Pocket Athletic Conference about joining the league.

At Wednesday’s meeting, held at Stoll’s Country Inn just south of I-64 in northern Vanderburgh County, it was confirmed both Boonville and Mt. Vernon have approached the PAC.

Declining enrollment and the PAC’s current membership, nine schools, eight of which compete for the league’s football championship, are two reasons for Boonville’s and Mt. Vernon’s interest.

Also, the Big Eight has only had 7 members since 2002.

With only seven members, Big Eight schools have to find three non-conference foes to complete a full football schedule.

The Clarion is also reporting Princeton might also contact the PAC about possibly joining as it might be forced to find a fourth non-conference football opponent starting with the 2017 season.  Its not yet known if Wood Memorial (also a Gibson County rival school) is going to resume football after cancelling its 2016 schedule when local police and school officials began investigation alleged hazing in the Trojans football program.

If Boonville and Mt. Vernon would join the PAC, and if Tell City, the PAC’s smallest* and eastern-most school leaves for the Patoka Lake Conference, as has been reported as a possibility, the PAC would still be an eight-team league which means schools would still only need to find two non-conference opponents to fill a full football schedule (*Tecumseh, which is smaller than Tell City, no longer plays a PAC football schedule, but does compete in the league’s other sports).

Amid all the talk at the more than two-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday, there was a positive feeling the Big Eight could stabilize itself by adding an eighth member.

Boonville Athletic Director Kevin Davis told the Clarion’s Pete Swanson after Wednesday’s meeting, “Stability in football is important.  And while we had an open discussion (today), we have no answers (yet) to any type of question.”

Vincennes Lincoln Athletic Director Jeff Hein says he feels good about the prospect of the Big Eight expanding to include an eighth school.  He says adding an eighth school would, “Solidify the conference.”  The league has not disclosed what school or schools, if any yet, are on the league’s expansion radar.

If Boonville, Mt. Vernon and even Princeton would leave, the Big Eight would be left with just four schools (Lincoln, Jasper, Washington and Mt. Carmel) which could put the league’s existence in question.

A source close to the PAC Board of Directors tells NewsNow Dubois County he would be surprised if the league would expand to bring in Boonville and Mt. Vernon.

Boonville would be by far the largest school in the PAC, and its only Class 4A member; the league’s current schools are either in Class 3A or 2A.  Even with a declining enrollment in recent years, Boonville would still have an enrollment of nearly 200 more than the PAC’s current largest school, Gibson Southern (899 to 707 for the 2015-16 school year).

The next PAC board meeting is November 1st, also at Stoll’s, and is expected to address the expansion issue though its not yet known if the league will take any formal action.

Jasper Athletic Director Andy Noblitt talked with NNDC after Wednesday’s meeting.  He says the school is going take a wait and see approach as to what, if anything transpires with schools possibly leaving the Big Eight.

“We will do what we think is best for Jasper High School and our athletic programs, said Noblitt, a JHS graduate who was an All-State baseball player for the Wildcats in the early 1990s.  His father was also athletic director at JHS in the 1970s and 80s.

He says Jasper, the Big Eight’s largest school (1,079) is not considering moving out of the league and joining another conference at this time.

The Big Eight Conference was created in 1980 when Boonville, Jasper, Mount Vernon, Princeton, Tell City, Vincennes Lincoln, and Washington left the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (SIAC).  Gibson Southern left the PAC then to join the league’s original lineup.  Gibson Southern left the Big Eight in 1992 to rejoin the PAC.  Tell City followed in 2001 and joined the PAC, reducing the Big Eight to six members.  Mt. Carmel, the only school from outside Indiana to compete in an Indiana high school athletic conference, joined the Big Eight in 2003 and the league has had seven members ever since.

About a year ago, Mount Carmel, by far the Big Eight’s smallest school (499 students), expressed interest in joining the Little Illini Conference in southeast Illinois, but the league then was not interested in expanding.  It was learned at Wednesday’s meeting, Mt. Carmel has not pursued the Little Illini since.

When the then North Egypt Conference disbanded in 2001, many of its schools including, Lawrenceville and Red Hill (Bridgeport), both in Lawrence County just across the Wabash River from Vincennes, moved to the Little Illini.  Mt. Carmel, a perennial North Eqypt power, was left without a league so it crossed the Wabash River to the east and joined the Big Eight.

Mt. Carmel won the Big Eight Conference football championship this fall; its sixth title since joining the league.  The 9-0 Golden Aces open play in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A playoffs this Friday.

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