PORTSMOUTH — With the July 4 holiday officially behind us, and until August arrives, one of the usual hotly-discussed high school sports topics is indeed expansion of southeastern Ohio-centric conferences.
But don’t worry, don’t expect the fireworks — or even an earthquake since this was Los Angeles — we saw just last week with the collegiate Big Ten expanding to include both the University of Southern California and University of California at Los Angeles of the Pacific-12.
Back on March 21, it was announced that the current eight-member Ohio Valley Conference —consisting of Portsmouth in Scioto County, Gallia Academy in Gallia County, and Ironton, Fairland, Chesapeake, Coal Grove, Rock Hill and South Point in Lawrence County — expressed official interest in expansion, ideally to two divisions.
Could that be 10, 12, 14 or even say 16 schools?
Any school interested had until May 1 to submit a letter of interest to OVC President and Rock Hill High School Principal Sam Gue —with ANY new member schools scheduled to enter the OVC being able to do so in the 2024-25 academic year.
Naturally, since these expansion decisions are centered around competitiveness and/or enrollment for football programs, that got the Internet masses talking, guess-timating, scenario-izing, and providing plenty of wishful thinking.
Two months later, the OVC has not publicly reported on any schools submitting a letter of interest — but fuel for the ongoing and rampant speculation still is free, far from our regular gasoline prices here in Southeastern Ohio.
But, we offer two cents —for present and future.
Expansion en masse of conferences in this immediate area —the OVC, the Southern Ohio Conference (SOC I and SOC II), the Tri-Valley Conference (TVC-Hocking and TVC-Ohio), the Scioto Valley Conference, the Southern Hills Athletic Conference and the five-year-old Frontier Athletic Conference — is nowadays a highly remote possibility.
It became a regular talking points memo in early 2004, when the now-defunct Southeastern Ohio Athletic League — of which Portsmouth and Ironton were both members of before moving to the OVC —sought to expand from six schools to 10, and to two divisions.
It became official on Sept. 1, 2004 with the SEOAL’s Board of Control vote —but by June of five years ago, the oldest non-city athletic league in the entire state was in fact no more.
Although the six-school FAC —with eastern-most Jackson joining former South Central Ohio League members Chillicothe, Hillsboro, McClain, Washington Court House and Miami Trace — was born by-productly of that, the FAC’s expansion attempts as recently as four years ago to entice Unioto and/or Waverly and/or Circleville and/or Logan Elm have not resulted in any additions.
Further south, below the U.S. Route 23 and Ohio Route 32 intersection in Pike County, the only expansion in the past five years has involved the SOC I —when Ironton St. Joseph joined officially for the 2019-20 academic year, and South Gallia goes from the TVC-Hocking to the SOC I starting in 2023-24.
With St. Joe’s re-entry, the SOC saw two schools move up from the smaller-school SOC I to the larger-school SOC II —Eastern in all sports except football and Oak Hill for football only.
Oak Hill had won at least a share of every SOC I championship from 2009 thru 2018 — except in 2011 and 2016.
The Oaks initially joined the SOC in the 1992-93 academic year.
Northwest will bump back to the SOC II for football starting in 2023 —to accompany South Gallia’s move to the SOC I.
Oak Hill had been previously linked to TVC expansion rumors, but when the OVC expansion interest came about, the Oaks —along curvy and windy Ohio Route 93 but only 30 minutes from Rock Hill and which play several OVC schools as non-league foes —all of the sudden became an attraction.
After all, Oak Hill has been an OVC member before.
The months-long speculation has included everything about Oak Hill having its choice between OVC and TVC or simply staying put in the SOC, to what a realistic two-division OVC would resemble —to even an OVC and SOC merger.
Traditionalist die-hards definitely don’t see that happening —as the SOC just completed its 75th year of athletic competition.
A prevailing thought among colleagues is that we don’t foresee any drastic multi-school area expansion taking place anytime soon —as schools seem safe and locked in to where they are now, or in South Gallia’s case where it is going.
With the last round of major musical chairs of expansion occurring around 2013 to 2017, the “final four” SEOAL schools of Gallia Academy, Warren, Jackson and Logan didn’t want to be the one without a seat when that music finally stopped.
Logan was that one in fact—and, on Independence Day, don’t tell the Chieftains and Lady Chiefs anything positive about being independent.
That was something they wish not to endure EVER again.
St. Joseph — which was a member of the SOC from 1982 thru 1989— did give that league 17 schools.
The Flyers withdrew from the SOC as a result of declining enrollment — and had been forced to play an independent schedule for the past three decades at that time.
However, they had scheduled several SOC I schools to fill their slates — as the SOC I consists of the smallest-sized schools in the conference.
The school’s athletic facilities also received an upgrade, which further prompted St. Joseph’s interest in re-joining the SOC.
It was voted down for admission over seven years ago — along with Jackson.
But this time — with improved facilities and timing on its side — St. Joseph was approved.
Although, the Flyers’ re-joining the SOC seems more of an expansion exception —as opposed to the rule.
Throw in ever-soaring diesel fuel prices for busses and other transportation means, and now you have travel distances dictating a lot of these decisions.
In short, and in taking temperatures of some SEO schools, although expansion conversation may be hotter than a fire in July —the actual expansion actions are likely on the cool side.
That is if recent history, and even conventional wisdom, tells us anything.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved