Article written by Johnny Carver, special to the Sunflower League Football Blog.
A proposal was voted on and passed by the principals of the Sunflower League schools on Wednesday, effectively changing the look of the league for years to come. The league’s 12 teams will be split into two divisions for football only, which will allow for the first week of the season to be for open scheduling. This will take effect next season.
“You’re not going to see two divisions split six and six,” said Olathe Northwest athletic director, Jay Novacek. “The way that it works out is that you would have two Olathes in one half, and two Olathes in another half. You would have the two Lawrences split. Then the five Shawnee Missions split three and two, along with Leavenworth going to the unbalanced side. That would be done by random draw.”
The divisions will by separated in two year cycles, with each of the league's school districts being evenly distributed. Jason Herman, Olathe North athletic director, headed this movement.
“The idea came from the coaches,” he said. “The creation that followed was made by me and it was what I figured they wanted. It was brought to my attention, because I’m considered the leader of football in the Sunflower League. I took it and ran with it.”
Currently, league play is reserved for the first seven games of each member school’s seven games against league foes in odd years, and the last seven games against league foes in even years. With the new change, league play will only be for games two through six, in which each team will play their other division members.
This idea was proposed in order to give schools the opportunity to play competition outside of the league. In the current (and soon to be former) format, Sunflower League teams are locked into preset league and district games. They do not have the opportunity to schedule opponents or travel elsewhere for competition.
“I think what is in the best interest of the league is to promote our league elsewhere by playing other schools outside of it,” said Herman. “I think it promotes our athletes. There’s a lot of great football being played in the western part of the state, and these matchups between them and us are currently only available in a state playoff situation.”
Novacek helped Herman promote this change by going to each of the Sunflower League schools to meet with each athletic director to explain how the change is beneficial. He agrees that it is in the best interest of the league.
“I think it’s important to give our students the opportunity to play schools that aren't in our league,” Novacek said. “The way it currently stands, we play all of our games in the same repetitive places. We wanted to have the opportunity to play teams that we don’t normally see around here.”
Another benefit of the new scheduling is that it allows schools to see more exposure. It has been discussed that multiple schools in the league are interested in having games broadcast on national television networks like ESPN and Fox Sports.
Playing out-of-state competition would increase the chances a league school would be able to appear on one of these nationally televised games. In general, the most targeted areas for team travel will be western Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri among other states in the Midwest.
Athletic directors in the Olathe School District believe there is no reason for this plan to be opposed. However, the plan drew criticism when it was proposed, particularly with Shawnee Mission schools.
“I like the tradition of getting your games out of the league,” said Shawnee Mission Northwest athletic director, Richard Grinage. “I like the fact that we currently play all of the Shawnee Missions every year. By making this change, depending on how the districts end up, there could be a situation where all of the Olathe or Shawnee Mission schools don’t play each other.”
There is a possibility that rival teams within the league would not play one other with the new system. KSHSAA, the association in charge of high school activities for the state of Kansas, sets the final three games of the season for each 6A school. These games are called district games, and they determine who moves on to the state playoffs.
These districts are separated geographically in two-year cycles. If two schools are separated in separate divisions and are not in the same district, there is a possibility that those two teams would have a two-year hiatus in their matchup.
The solution for this, Herman says, is that they can use the open week to schedule the other team, should they choose to.
“There is a way to shuffle things around,” he said. “I want to guarantee that each Olathe school plays two of the others with the possibility of scheduling that third matchup. I want to make sure the Shawnee Mission schools are guaranteed to play three of the other schools with the possibility of playing the fourth. They could use their open week to schedule games with each other if they choose.”
Grinage has stated that Shawnee Mission Northwest will likely use their extra game to make sure that the schools within the district play each other.
“We will typically get our games out of the league,” Grinage said, “but [this decision] allows those schools to do otherwise if they choose to.”
Herman says that Olathe North will take full advantage of their new opportunities.
“We would definitely look west or outside of the state,” he said. “We’re not interested in playing another team in the league. We want to give our players new scenery.”
Novacek says that Olathe Northwest will also look elsewhere for competition with their open week. He cited the fact that all other sports besides football have the opportunity to travel. He also thinks this open week will be beneficial to the football program.
“Hopefully,” he said, “it will shed some light on how good our team is. If we go out and beat some of these teams, it would put us on the map.”
Although there was some opposition, the proposal was passed as expected -- much to the delight of the coaches in the league, whom Herman says need to start immediately preparing for next season.
“I told the coaches that this has a very good chance of passing, and if it does, they need to start working on scheduling those games now. After the districts are set in October, we will be setting the league schedule for the next two years.”
Johnny Carver, firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnny Carver, email@example.com