This Friday, as is the case most Fridays from December through January, the Summit Athletic Conference will be featured at five venues around Fort Wayne – each of which will host a girls-boys doubleheader.
Introduced several years ago, the league doubleheader format was originally designed as a way to streamline the conference schedule, help attendance and give continuity to the league slate. While the schedule itself has not been switched up in quite some time (yes, we always get Snider v. North Side in December and Carroll vs. Homestead in February), there is enough variation in the non-conference slate to overlook that issue. For instance, this Saturday will see a battle of undefeated teams as the top two in Class 4A collide in Indy – Homestead and Lawrence North.
But a Friday in the winter? It is a fair bet that the SAC has doubleheaders going on throughout Allen County.
It is such a novel concept that each season the question is asked – why don’t other leagues adopt the doubleheader format?
You can say that with its approach to hoops scheduling, the SAC is ahead of the curve.
Football though, is a different story.
In 2015, Homestead and Carroll entered the SAC from the defunct Northeast Hoosier Conference. It added two high-profile schools to the league and upped the number of members back to 10 following the closure of Harding and Elmhurst in recent years.
In some people’s minds, it brought stability – the return to a nine-game conference slate in which every program plays every other team in the league, simple and sweet.
But the push back to 10 also eliminated what was a fun time in SAC football. When Elmhurst closed in 2010 and Harding one year later, it allowed SAC teams to step out of the bubble that was Fort Wayne football and add a few non-conference opponents each year. Snider was able to take on Penn, Bishop Dwenger faced off against the likes of Cathedral and Cincinnati LaSalle (OH), while Bishop Luers took on challenges like Leo and Columbus Hartley (OH).
But it wasn’t just the powerhouses that took advantage. South Side was able to get some program momentum with winnable games against Gary Wallace and Indianapolis Arsenal Tech. Wayne took on Kokomo and Anderson, while North Side added Mishawaka and Huntington North.
The advantages were plentiful, not only were SAC programs able to step out of the footprint of Fort Wayne and take on programs similar to their level, it also gave football fans in the area something else to talk about – just how good our teams here are compared to others around the state? Conversely, it gave those from around the state the ability to see and judge Fort Wayne teams in the regular season, instead of waiting until the playoffs.
But that fun ended when Carroll and Homestead were added. As they slid into the spots vacated by Elmhurst and Harding, the doors closed on epic non-conference matchups involving SAC programs, ending what was a fruitful and fascinating time.
Unfortunately, despite a push to change it up from a few administrators and support by a fair amount of league head coaches, SAC is still in the rigidity of a nine-game conference season. This upcoming season will once again see the same SAC schedule, as it has been for the last six years. North Side will once again open the year with Snider, Bishop Dwenger and Carroll, while the Saints will take on Wayne, North and South in the first three weeks.
Change is needed. Variety is needed. While the SAC has the right idea in basketball, setting a precedent that other leagues can look to, the football side of things are woefully antiquated.
Sources have told Outside the Huddle that ideas to change up the SAC include breaking into two divisions, allowing for a schedule that includes a mix of intra-division games, interdivision games and a few non-conference contests. That proposal, despite some praise, lacks the universal support needed for adoption.
While there is hope in the future that the SAC can adopt something to spice up the football schedule – even if it is an NE8 approach where Weeks 1 and 2 are non-conference and the following seven weeks are league games – nothing appears imminent. Recent rumors have the SAC sticking with its current format until at least 2023, and perhaps longer.
So while we enjoy the Fridays in the winter for what the SAC has put together, Friday Night Lights in the fall will remain a “what if.”
We will enjoy the rivalries, the games with the Victory Bell on the line, the upsets that can lay the foundation for a team’s rise. But some of us will also crave more variety, different matchups and the excitement that can arise when we see local teams compete and beat squads from outside of the area in the regular season on the gridiron.
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