By ROB TODOR
The All-American Conference will look radically different in two years.
On Tuesday the superintendents of the AAC unanimously approved invitations to Austintown Fitch and Jefferson Area, effective with the 2011-12 school year.
Fitch will compete in all sports except football, while Jefferson, which is located in southern Ashtabula County, will compete in all sports, but not in football until the 2012 season.
AAC commissioner Clem Zumpella confirmed the vote on Tuesday, which was passed unanimously.
Zumpella also confirmed a change in the alignment of the conference when the two new schools begin play. There will be two divisions instead of the current three, based on enrollment.
Fitch will join the big-school tier, joining Canfield, Howland, Niles, Poland, Beaver Local, Hubbard Struthers.
Jefferson will be part of the small-school tier, along with Campbell Memorial, Champion, Girard, Lakeview, Liberty, Newton Falls and LaBrae.
The tiers will be subdivided for scheduling purposes, but only two division champions will be recognized, said Zumpella.
Earlier this month a “Expansion and Realignment” committee of the AAC considered letters of interest from six schools. In addition to Fitch and Jefferson, Boardman and Ashtabula Edgewood expressed a desire to join the conference. The Youngstown City Schools, representing Chaney and East, had also expressed an informal interest but did not submit a formal letter.
The committee recommended only Fitch and Jefferson. Boardman’s submission was to participate in all sports, confirmed on Tuesday by Boardman Schools Superintent Frank Lazerri, and that was likely the reason the AAC committee didn’t recommend the Spartans.
“Looking at the Federal League and the AAC, there is a $30,000 differential in costs,” said Austintown Schools Superintendent Vincent Colaluca, who said he will recommend the move to the Austintown Board of Education meeting at its next meeting on May 17.
“We have a very good relationship with all the schools in the Federal League,” said Colaluca, “but in looking at a [Mahoning] Valley league, it’s a benefit for us to go into. It’s going to put a little hardship on our football program [as an independent] but we wanted to do what’s best for all of our students.”
Colaluca said he will present a letter to the Federal League at its next meeting. Normally the Fed requires a two-year notice by a school that is leaving, but the by-laws do allow a one-year “hardship” exemption.
“We definitely have a hardship with gate revenues,” said Colaluca.
At Boardman, Lazzeri knew his application would be a difficult sell because of football.
“I pursued this because of our economics, trying to increase gate revenues,” he said, adding, “I felt creating rivalries with local teams, we could have other games like the Boardman-Mooney [football] game last year, when 7,000-8,000 people were in Spartan Stadium.”
Lazzeri knew the disparity in enrollments between Boardman and the current AAC schools would work against his bid.
“There’s an up side and down side to everything,” he said. “A lot of the teams aren’t our size.”
Lazzerri said Boardman will remain in the Federal League.
“Our Board of Education is very happy with the Federal League,” he said.
Brookfield is leaving the AAC after this school year and will operate as an independent in all sports.
Salem withdrew from the AAC earlier this year and will join the Northeastern Buckeye Conference in all sports in 2011-12.