BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – According to Fort Madison Activities Director Andy Mitchell, the Southeast Conference is in talks of expanding with the possibility of including Burlington and Ottumwa in the very near future.
Mitchell said conversations held at a meeting last week are still very preliminary but adding two schools to the conference would benefit most athletic teams in the conference.
He said basketball alone is very tough scheduling when you have to fill 21 games and only have eight of those conference games.
“That’s a good example of why these smaller conferences aren’t a good thing,” Mitchell told the board.
“Over the past years we’ve tried to get other schools to join the conference without much success.
Mitchell said Burlington officials sent an email to the schools in southeast Iowa requesting a meeting to discuss possibly forming a new conference. He said the meeting took place on June 5th and Oskaloosa declined, indicating they are happy with their current situation.
“Burlington ran the meeting and they’re looking to get out of the Mississippi Athletic Conference (MAC). Financially it makes more sense for them to be part of our conference than it does to be in that one,” Mitchell said. “We talked about the pros and cons and what things could be like if they joined. Ottumwa was there and there’s definitely some interest there, as well.
He said since the meeting there hasn’t been any other communication with the schools.
“It’s real early in the discussion,” he said. “We play most of those schools in most sports as it is. I think there’s a fairly good chance Burlington will request to come into the conference. Ottumwa I would say is 50/50 right now.”
Phone calls for this article to Burlington’s Athletic Director Zach Shay and Ottumwa school officials went unreturned.
Burlington is currently part of the Mississippi Athletic Conference and they are looking at adding Dubuque schools which would make travel even farther. Ottumwa plays in the Central Iowa Metro League and plays larger schools in the Des Moines area.
Mitchell said he did a survey with coaches at the high school and one said no to Burlington and another said no to both, but all the other coaches were in favor of having the other schools.
If you look at our middle school conference we have Burlington and Ottumwa anyway.
Board member Tim Wondra asked if West Burlington would be an option. Mitchell said when they’re with Notre Dame sure, but the programs aren’t all combined so that wouldn’t work.
“If they go with Notre Dame in all sports I could see that, but Notre Dame is the big dogs in their conference in a lot of sports so they may not want to change that.”
Head wrestling coach Ryan Smith said he favored adding teams even though he didn’t see it impacting his program.
“My overall opinion is I’m game for it.,” he said. “We already compete with those schools at the state level and that’s who we compete with at districts. But anytime we get more teams in the conference I think it’s good. It really doesn’t matter who it is.”
Smith said having the additional schools wouldn’t add competition to the wrestling program because the Hounds travel to places like Urbandale, Cedar Rapids, North Scott, and other high level meets and typically run into those schools there. They also had a dual meet with Burlington last year.
“I just think it would be good for our conference and maybe add a little respect,” he said.
Head baseball coach Ken Steeples said, overall, he thinks adding the schools is a good idea.
“I don’t like (the conference) with just five teams,” Steeples said. “I’m ok with adding a couple of teams. Burlington is down a little in baseball this year but perennially they’re pretty good.. Overall I think it’s a good thing.”
Football is scheduled by the state in districts with recommendations from the schools, although proximity between schools is a determining factor.
Volleyball Head Coach Kent Bailey said the addition would be an improvement.
“The addition of these two schools would make our conference one of the most competitive in multiple sports,” Bailey said. “It would be good for scheduling and for the fans from each of the schools and would bring back memories of the old Southeast Seven.”
Ryan Wilson said from a basketball standpoint he’s in favor of the proposed moves.
“Being 3A down in the southeast corner, it’s so tough to get 3A games and to get two more conference schools means four more conference games,” Wilson said.
“That’s 12 conference games as opposed to eight. On top of that they are 4As and in basketball you get points for beating the bigger schools. It’s great to get more teams in our conference. You get back to the old stomping ground and you get more people in the gym.”
He said, aside from the conference opponents, the next closest 3A schools in basketball are schools up by Iowa City.
Head coach Dean Hogan said he favors bringing in the schools.
“I think it would bring about more competition to the area teams. I think it’s something that would be better for all sports in general. It will be better for attendance to the gates and a win/win for scheduling,” Hogan said.
“Overall it gives more of an identity with the newcomers. We used to play Ottumwa years ago, so in tennis it’s always a good situation. Ottumwa has always been strong and Burlington can be very good so that will bring added competition.”