Four Peoria high schools are joining the Big 12 Conference next school year for all sports except football, with football to follow in 2015.
Peoria Notre Dame has approved the move and approval for Peoria’s three public schools — Central, Richwoods and Manual — was to come at Monday night’s District 150 board meeting, according to District 150 director of public relations Chris Coplan.
“It is not on the board agenda, but we will be signing to approve the agreement with the Big 12,” Coplan said. “It will not be for football next year. It will be for football in 2015, but for the other sports beginning next year.”
The departure of Decatur MacArthur and Decatur Eisenhower for the Central State Eight Conference after this year would have left the Big 12 with seven members. Now, it will grow to 11, with the Peoria schools joining Bloomington, Normal Community, Normal West, Urbana, Champaign Centennial, Champaign Central and Danville.
“It’s very exciting news for us and our kids,” Bloomington athletic director John Szabo said. “It will make it a lot easier to schedule with more schools in the conference. The travel will be a lot more local for most of us. Danville will have travel, but with where they are located they have a lot of travel anyway.
“I also think the quality of the conference will be more competitive in a lot of sports. It will better prepare our kids in that regard for state series competition.”
Szabo cited exposure as another plus, saying, “It will create some additional media coverage through the Peoria TV stations as well. That will be great for our kids.”
Champaign Central’s John Woods, president of the Big 12 athletic directors, called the merger “a blessing for everybody when you look at all of the sports.”
“Football certainly drives a lot of the scheduling stuff, but being competitive in every sport is the goal,” Woods said. “That’s what the Peoria schools bring to the Big 12 and that’s what attracted the Big 12 to the Peoria schools. They are competitive in all of their sports.
“They have a rich tradition and great people leading their programs. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Normal West A.D. Stan Lewis said the expansion “really helps us out.”
“Twelve would be a great number if we could get to that,” he added. “Who knows? Maybe there’s another school out there that would say, ‘Hey, one more would make 12. Maybe we’ll jump in.’
"I don’t know who that would be, but maybe they think differently if they see those (Peoria) schools in there.”
Richwoods, Central, Manual and Notre Dame played as independents this football season after Chillicothe IVC and Quincy Notre Dame pulled out of the Mid-State Six Conference.
The Peoria schools and the Western Big Six Conference agreed to a football-only merger that was to begin this season. However, Manual was unable to schedule a game with Moline because it was contracted to play Eureka.
That left the Western Big Six to remain at six and the Peoria schools to play as independents. In November, the Western Big Six principals voted against forming an all-sports merger with Peoria.
The Western Big Six and Peoria schools are contracted to play each other next football season, with the games classified as nonconference.