Big 8 Conference expanding to 14 schools

The landscape of high school sports and conference affiliation has changed quite a bit over the past few years and it’s about to add a major wrinkle.  The BIG 8 Conference superintendents, principals, and athletic directors met and approved expansion that is scheduled to take effect in 2018.

“We’ve been talking about it for awhile and we started asking are we going to do something or nothing,” said Monett Athletic Director Daryl Bradley, who says the first official meeting happened in October.

The current BIG 8 Conference membership includes: East Newton, Cassville, Monett, McDonald County, Aurora, Lamar, Mt. Vernon, and Seneca School Districts.  The expansion proposal expands the conference to 14 members.  The proposed new schools districts are Marshfield, Nevada, Logan-Rogersville, Reeds Spring, Hollister, and Springfield Catholic.

All schools involved have met and agreed to terms, but the six invited schools must gain school board approval before the new mega conference can become a reality.

“For us, it’s going to create opportunity for opponents in all sports, but especially football,” said Marshfield Athletic Director Kevin Armstrong, who says his board will vote on Dec. 19.  “We’re just happy to have a place and we’re excited about the Big 8 and elevating to that level.”

The expansion will especially benefit sports like soccer, wrestling and swimming.  By expanding to the 14 member conference it now means eight additional sports will be considered and eligible for conference recognition and awards.  Conference honors will be given for each division.

“In wrestling, we now have 10 teams instead of four,” said Bradley, who is also Monett’s wrestling coach.  “It gives you something else to compete for, and we’ll have an opportunity to regularly schedule bigger schools.”

The move was facilitated by recent moves that include Carl Junction’s exit to the COC Large, and COC Small schools Buffalo and Hollister announcing their departure.

“The BIG 8 Conference has an outstanding reputation in the entire state and we had to get this right if it were going to successful and most important be good for our students,” said Cassville Athletic Director Doug Martin.

The West Division includes: McDonald County, Monett, Nevada, Cassville, East Newton, Seneca, and Lamar.

The East Division includes: Marshfield, Logan-Rogersville, Aurora, Reeds Spring, Springfield Catholic, Hollister, and Mt. Vernon.

The new conference provides a tremendous amount of upside for the 14 schools involved, but one concern in the early stages is preserving traditional rivalries, which is still up in the air.

“It could create problems where we don’t play our longtime rivals,” said Bradley.  “We may not play Aurora or Mt Vernon every year.  Those are things we’re going to have to sit down and figure out.”

All six schools invited must have approval for the conference to be formed or else they will have to “go back to the drawing board”.  Bradley felt the decision would be made in the next two weeks prior to Christmas.

Bolivar is the lone remaining unaffiliated school from the previous COC Small.

“Bolivar will get an opportunity to play and compete in all sports except varsity football,” said Bradley.  “I feel for them.  That’s not a dead issue. It has to be equal on both sides.”

The BIG 8 Conference expansion and realignment process will begin in January 2017, but the official conference affiliation and division schedules won’t take effect until the 2018 school year until the current athletic scheduling cycle is complete.

The conference will continue to be called the BIG 8.