Time to cut down conference

Susquenita’s move from the Mid-Penn Conference into the Tri-Valley League starting in 2014 is all but a done deal, and already the talk has begun as to what the conference will do with its football schedule.

I’ve got a suggestion: punt.

There are 10 football teams in the TVL without Susquenita, but three of those are holdovers from the Twin Valley Conference days. They all play in District 11, well east of most of the TVL schools.

Maybe it’s time to cut the strings and let them go.

Yes, it’s a convenience to athletic directors when they don’t have to make a schedule because the league their team is in can fill it – and with no change other than the addition of Susquenita, the TVL would have a full slate of 10 games without any non-league action.

But football is supposed to be about competition, historical ties and rivalries. Williams Valley, Tri-Valley and Pine Grove don’t exactly fit those descriptions when it comes to Juniata and especially East Juniata, which spent very little time in the Twin Valley after the TVL got out of the football business two decades past.

There’s also the distance factor, which is more than relevant in a time when schools need to control costs – especially in a school district where the teams are paying their own way. Williams Valley is the closest to the two Juniata County schools – roughly 120 miles round trip – while Pine Grove represents a round-trip drive of more than 150 miles from either of them. When you’re sending two or three buses, that’s a lot of scratch.

The assumption is that the TVL will split into divisions, with those three schools on one side and the two Juniatas – along with Newport and newcomer Susquenita, all west of the Susquehanna – on the other. That leaves four schools – Halifax, Line Mountain, Millersburg and Upper Dauphin – to split between the two.

Except you can’t really split up the three Dauphin County schools, all of which are backyard rivals. So now you almost have to put them in with the District 11 schools, and Line Mountain – somewhat of an odd man out – ends up in the western group.

So Juniata and East Juniata are in a division with four league games apiece; the other schools have five. Sure, you can play an interdivisional schedule – but is it the best decision?

If you cut the three distant schools – who are not members of the Tri-Valley League in any other sport, even though its reformation at the beginning of the current two-year cycle was as an all-sports conference – you have eight football members, which provides for seven league games and three non-league games.

Which is pretty much par for the course.

There are arguments against this, to be fair – chief among them another widespread belief, that the two Juniata County football programs will become one, taking another team out of the league. But that’s assuming facts not in evidence, and one thing that’s for sure is the willingness of football supporters at both East Juniata and Midd-West to keep their program intact.

And there’s always the possibility another, closer school will bolt its conference for the TVL – Susquenita is the second team to announce its departure from the venerable Mid-Penn this year. Of course, it’s also possible someone will leave the TVL.

Meantime, a few more out-of-conference dates can only help our two local schools. Juniata needs to see a few District 6 teams if it wants to find success on its postseason road. And East Juniata can only benefit from more meetings with its former All-American Football Conference foes – most notably Columbia-Montour Vo-tech – if it wants the points and the record to make the District 4 field.

It’s always nice to see loyalty in sports, like the move the TVL made in giving those three teams a place to play when they had no say over the realignment of the conference. But that loyalty shouldn’t be at the expense of the league’s core schools.


Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at jfishbein@lewistownsentinel.com.