ANDERSON — Big changes are coming to the North Central Conference.
The league announced its intentions to expand in late winter and added Lafayette Jeff, McCutcheon and West Lafayette Harrison to its roster for the 2014-15 school year in early spring.
The expansion was a response to shifting tides across the state, conference officials said at the time. And they’ve recently been proven prescient.
Jay County reportedly was approached about joining the NCC at the same time as the Lafayette trio, a move that would have brought league membership to 12 schools and perhaps led to a two-division format to help limit annual travel expenses.
But the Patriots, who have been looking for a new home since the Olympic Conference dissolved three years ago, chose instead to join the Allen County Athletic Conference that is closer to their Portland base.
Shortly after Jay County’s decision, the Northeast Hoosier Conference announced it would disband. Some of the league’s former members are staying together to form a new NHC, and they invited NCC member Huntington North into the fold.
The Vikings accepted and will leave the NCC effective for the 2015-16 school year. Less than a week later, New Castle followed suit — trading in its longstanding tradition in the NCC for a new home with Pendleton Heights in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
“On behalf of the HHC, we look forward to many exciting athletic and academic competitions with the New Castle Trojans,” Yorktown principal and HHC president Kelly Wittman said in a conference press release. “Their reputation of quality student athletic programs will make for spirited conference contests in the future.”
The Trojans’ departure will come a year earlier than Huntington North’s, in 2014-15, leaving the NCC with a different makeup in each of the next three years.
The league will feature eight schools in the upcoming school year, with no additions or subtractions. In 2014-15, the three Lafayette area schools will join and New Castle will leave, bringing the conference to 10 teams.
That number will drop to nine a year later with the departure of Huntington North, if the NCC can’t find new schools to partner with in the interim.
The league office issued a press release last week stating it was aware of the decisions by New Castle and Huntington North and that the schools will not be eligible for any conference championships or awards next season.
The release further states the NCC has a “template plan in place to continue the goal of conference expansion.”
“As events unfold throughout the state among athletic conferences, the athletic directors of the NCC will continue to focus on what is best for the student athletes, coaches, schools and communities of the nine member schools in the NCC,” the release, signed by sports information director Michael Austin, reads. “The goal for the NCC remains the same; bigger, better, stronger and more exciting than ever.”