By Steve Ruman
The All-American Conference is about to receive a major facelift.
League superintendents on Wednesday voted to expand the conference by adding six additional schools. They are Boardman, Warren Harding, East, Brookfield, Ashtabula Edgewood and Pymatuning Valley.
League commissioner Rick King noted that officially, the AAC only voted to invite the six schools. However, since each of the schools have already applied to join the league, the invitations appear to be nothing more than a formality.
“I can say with certainty that we accept and we welcome the opportunity to join the AAC,” said Warren athletic director Paul Trina. “For us, this was all about getting back to re-establishing local rivalries. Until you get away from that, you don’t realize just how important it is to maintain relationships with local schools.
“From a financial standpoint, our major sports will benefit greatly because of the fact we’re playing local competition. More importantly for the students and fans, it generates much more interest.”
Boardman athletic director Dave Smercansky noted that while the move still must be approved by his board of education, he is “just about near certain” that his school will accept the invitation.
“Our community and our administrators encouraged us to seek a local conference, and this is a tremendous fit,” Smercansky said. “This will add both stability and excitement to our sports program.”
A seventh school — Steubenville — had applied for membership on a football-only basis, but was denied. However, King said an invitation could be extended in the upcoming weeks.
“For starters, we wanted to be certain that Boardman and Harding were all in, otherwise Steubenville doesn’t fit in any of our other tiers,” King said. “We may re-evaluate Steubenville in the near future.”
The expansion would result in a four-tiered format for football, while all other sports will use a three-tiered setup.
It will also possibly create a unique situation in which Poland and Niles could play for a pair of league titles in football.
Multiple sources confirmed that the four divisions in football will include; Tier One: Austintown Fitch, Boardman, Warren G. Harding. Tier Two: Niles, Poland, Canfield, Howland, Youngstown East. Tier Three: Niles, Poland, Hubbard, Struthers, Lakeview, Jefferson and Ashtabula Edgewood. Tier Four: Girard, Liberty, Champion, LaBrae, Campbell, Brookfield, Pymatuning Valley, Newton Falls.
Niles and Poland would play each team in both Tier Two and Tier Three. All games would count in the league standings in their prospective tiers. The Niles-Poland game would count in the tier two standings.
In essence, both schools would battle for conference championships in both Tier Two and Tier Three.
“This is definitely a unique situation, but it’s something we wanted all along,” said Niles athletic director Marc Fritz. “In this scenario, our kids would be playing for something every week. We would have nine conference games. All our games would mean something.
“Beyond football, this brings a lot of equality to our league. We’ll be competing for league titles against schools our size, as will the other members of the league. It will be as fair as possible for all schools, and that’s what you want out of a conference.”
In football, East, Howland and Canfield would annually play at least one opponent from the upper tier. Other crossover games would be determined by individual schools.
The most likely division breakdown for other sports would include; Tier One: Boardman, Fitch, Harding, East, Canfield, Howland. Tier Two: Niles, Poland, Struthers, Hubbard, Lakeview, Jefferson, Ashtabula Edgewood. Tier Three: Girard, Liberty, Champion, LaBrae, Campbell, Brookfield, Pymatuning Valley, Newton Falls.
Based on enrollment, all schools would play multiple crossover games in all sports other than football.
“Once expansion is complete, schools will play everyone within their tier twice per season, and all those games will count in the league standings,” King said. “That’s currently not the case, and it has caused some confusion.
“This will make our schedules more uniform, and our league races easier to follow.”
Trina noted that from a football sense, the small number of schools in the top tier “is the only drawback of this whole scenario.” Still, he is confident that Harding fans will be receptive of the opportunity to join a league consisting of local opponents.
“We’ve faced the same challenges of filling a schedule when we were in the Steel Valley Conference,” Trina said. “We currently play Massillon. We’ll play at least one crossover game. There is the chance of possible expansion. And, we’ve established some strong relationships with schools in the Lake Erie League.
“We’ll do just fine in terms of finding solid non-conference opponents.”
Trina noted that joining the AAC will also benefit the Warren programs at the lower levels.
“Our junior high students will have a complete schedule, and they’ll have the opportunity to play in post-season tournaments. This is going to be great for our overall program,” Trina said. “Plus, we have a lot to offer in terms of facilities.
“We have a swimming pool, two gyms, beautiful outdoor facilities. This gives us a chance to possibly host league tournaments.”
King noted that he hopes to have the expanded league begin conference play with the 2014 spring sports season. Conference play would begin in all other sports with the exception of football at the start of the 2014-15 school year, with the inclusion of football in the fall of 2015.