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Michel: Proposing (hypothetical) conference realignment in Central Illinois

Central Illinois high school sports
Left photo by Jonathan Michel/Clutch Sports Media, middle photo by Elsa Olmstead/Clutch Sports Media/Right photo by Miguel Agyei/Clutch Sports Media

On July 1, I came across two posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, that caught me feeling a weird sort of way. 

It almost felt eerie, but not in a ghosts and spooky haze type of way. It might have felt gut-wrenching, like losing something that’s been normal in your life for years. It – somehow – almost felt exciting too? The topic of those two posts was conference realignment in NCAA sports, where some schools' moves from one conference to another was officially made on that day.

One such post was a screenshot of the Big Ten football standings page on ESPN that displayed 20 teams stacked up. I couldn’t help but think that it resembled one of those obscenely tall burgers at a restaurant that's held together only by a long toothpick and is impossible to fit in your mouth all at once. The other such post was a video of a man watching the Pac-12 Network go dark – literally – on his TV right as the clock struck midnight.

Those sort of things bring around a strange mix of emotions for most sports fans (and one easily-guessable one for television networks and other bigwigs). For years, you’d hear “UCLA Bruins” and automatically connect them to the Pac-12 or “Texas Longhorns” with the Big 12. Now, there’s teams whose combined mileage on their road trips for one season will amount to nearly the entire circumference of the globe. Hearing that Barcelona A&M may have a shot to win it all in 2048.

But I digress. Conference realignment is still a thing even at the high school level but thankfully, none of those are due to TV rights or NIL money. As the new high school season fast approaches, football fans in the area will be greeted by another conference merger between the Heart of Illinois and Central Illinois conferences to form the Heart of Central Illinois Conference, which will be for football-only. The 2023 season saw the debut of the Lincoln Trail and Prairieland Conferences merging for football as well. 

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