After the news that Lakewood would leave the Southwestern Conference for the Great Lakes Conference in 2020, speculation arose about whether the SWC would try to replace the school, and if so, how soon.
Those questions were fueled when the Southwestern Conference Twitter account announced June 10 that the conference was “accepting applications for possible league expansion beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.”
In a phone call with West Life, SWC Commissioner Mike McCarthy emphasized that adding a team remains only a possibility and that there’s been no firm decision about staying at nine teams, returning to 10 or adding more.
“You look at the landscape in Northeast Ohio and just like Lakewood moving from the Southwestern Conference to the Great Lakes Conference, you get that type of movement by one team periodically,” McCarthy said. “Sometimes things happen like a domino effect. Those are a lot of dominoes that have to fall into place a lot of times. Everybody is always aware of what their own situation is and they’re always looking at what’s best for their school community in every aspect, not just athletically.”
Lakewood, which joined the SWC in 2015, is not the only team to announce that it would join the GLC. With the announcement that the Patriot Athletic Conference was dissolving following the spring season, Fairview and the Buckeye school district in Medina County said they will also join the GLC for the upcoming season. The Rangers will put the conference at 10 teams.
McCarthy acknowledged that a nine-team conference poses scheduling challenges.
“We’re looking at the possibilities,” he said. “Every team winds up with sort of a bye week at some point in time during the 10-week season where they would have to schedule a non-conference opponent.”
North Olmsted football head coach Tim Brediger said these struggles will likely be a catalyst in moving the needle toward replacement in 2022, but he didn’t want to look past this final season with Lakewood in the conference.
“It’s unfortunate (that Lakewood is leaving) because it’s really a new conference. We’ve all been together for about four years, that’s it,” Brediger said. “The challenging part is that it leaves openings for multiple years in the middle of schedules. For us we have to find a week five game. Others have to find a week seven game, a week eight game.
“I’ve heard both sides (of the expansion discussion) and I think there’s merit to both sides,” Brediger added. “Obviously if you only have to find one non-conference game a year, as a conference, that’s a little easier. I know a lot of coaches prefer to have a few games early on that aren’t conference games where you can go and schedule competitive teams that you don’t see all the time, that will help as far as playoff (points) go.”
McCarthy said that should the decision be made to replace Lakewood, geographic proximity, school size/division and quality of athletics are among the criteria that will be evaluated.
“I would hesitate to say there is any one thing. It’s all of those things,” McCarthy said. “It’s not just about sports. Everyone thinks conferences exist just because of sports. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that’s the main focus most of the time, but there are other considerations. All the schools in the SWC are very similar and very complementary to each other in terms of their academic programs and other extracurricular programs that they offer.”
The SWC was formed in 1937 with eight teams. Five of the original members — Amherst, Avon Lake, North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls and Westlake — remain. Berea-Midpark was in the league as the Berea Braves from 1937-1950 and again from 2005-13 before merging to become Berea-Midpark. It remains in the conference.
In 2015, another shakeup occurred when Avon, Lakewood, Midview and North Ridgeville joined. Brecksville-Broadview Heights left for the Suburban League the same year.
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