West PAC expansion could leave MPC with two teams

Gwinn joins 4 other schools applying to join West PAC

GWINN — After many years in the Mid-Peninsula Conference, Gwinn applied to join the West PAC in all sports except for boys and girls tennis and wrestling.

“We met as a full board (Tuesday) night at a special board meeting and this was one of the agenda items,” Gwinn athletic director Rob Soyring said. “We received unanimous support to explore the option of the West PAC, so we will be submitting an application letter for consideration by the West PAC’s deadline of Oct. 16. I’m drafting that today (Wednesday) to pass off to Sean Jacques, who represents Calumet.

“It’s our understanding that they would meet as a West PAC conference to review any and all applications that had been passed on to them by that deadline. Then we just wait to hear what their answer is.”

While most other schools are looking to join the West PAC strictly for football, Soyring said that the offer that Gwinn received was to join for all its sports, excluding tennis and wrestling, which the West PAC doesn’t cover.

The Daily News reported Wednesday that Iron Mountain is also submitting an all-sports application to the West PAC.

“Our request would be for all sports and that has been what West PAC has offered us the opportunity for consideration of,” Soyring said. “It’s safe to say that it’s an effort to try to resolve scheduling issues for certain high school sports.

“High school scheduling for 11-man football has become quite challenging. Right now, we would enter next season with what looks like three gaps in our schedule because of recent conference alignments. The hope is that if we were accepted that we would be part of a very large conference, but possibly splitting out into some divisions and therefore assisting with football scheduling.”

In regard to tennis and wrestling, Soyring thinks that the Modeltowners would remain in the MPC for those sports, while being a West PAC member in the others if their application is accepted.

“I think the initial thought from our end is that the MPC would still exist for those sports as we know it right now,” he said. “For all of the other sports, we’d be considered a West PAC conference member and then we’d see how that conference would shake out with divisions.”

The Modeltowners aren’t the only MPC school exploring its options as Negaunee is looking to create a football-only deal with the West PAC. Miners athletic director Andrew Brunette said that Negaunee is open to several possibilities.

“We are looking to do something with the West PAC in terms of a football scheduling arrangement where we would do something to combine in a way,” he said. “Whether it be combining for football and have a football-only conference with them or whether we do something like having some crossover games with our conferences.

“Basically, we’re trying to fix some of the holes that some of our schools have in their football schedules. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like yet, but there is a deadline of Oct. 16 where everyone will have to make their intentions known on what they were going to do or being interested in doing. From that point, we’ll find out where the West PAC is at and where our schools are at and see if we can make an arrangement work.”

Brunette also said that a football “super-conference” could also be an option. The West PAC will have 12 teams next year and be splitting into two divisions. If a bunch of MPC schools join, it could even split to three divisions probably based on enrollment.

Though the Miners are talking about moving toward a better football arrangement, Brunette wanted to make clear that his district isn’t trying to leave the MPC entirely or force a shutdown.

“Even if we were to do this, our plan is to not have the Mid-Pen go bye-bye like that,” he said. “We’re not thinking about that for volleyball or track or cross country or any other sports. Football just seems to be the one that everyone is struggling with in terms of scheduling.

“We’ve made our intentions clear that we would like to be part of an arrangement. That doesn’t mean that we’re just taking off altogether.”

Messages were left for the Ishpeming and Westwood athletic departments on Wednesday but not returned.

“We would be saddened if the Mid-Pen dissolves,” said Manistique athletic director Rob Ryan. “It’s been a great conference for 40 years. We know that things change, but heading 200 miles or more to play schools is just not reasonable for us given our geographical location.”

The West PAC will be meeting Oct. 16 to determine if any of these schools will be accepted to the conference, with a decision coming as soon as Oct. 18.

Gladstone AD Andy Jacques also cited location as a reason for not applying to the West PAC.

“It’s definitely a travel issue,” Jacques said. “We would be traveling to quite a few places, especially for basketball. For football, it would be great because it would be great competition for us, but for other sports it’s a lot of traveling.”

This is Gladstone’s first year in the MPC after moving from the Great Northern Conference last year. Jacques believes it’s a real possibility that the Braves could look to move back to the GNC if all of these teams are granted admission to the West PAC.

As for Manistique, it would have to look elsewhere to where it makes sense geographically.

“I think we would be forced to look at schools who are similar in size and closer to us,” Ryan said. “We’ll probably look at schools on the east side like Newberry, St. Ignace and Rudyard. They are about our size and we play them at the district level in many sports anyway. Another option would to become independent, but that wouldn’t be a very attractive option.”

— The Daily Press sports writer Avery Bundgaard contributed to this report.