There is considerable momentum and discussion ongoing that could see the Summit Athletic Conference look much different come fall of 2023.
Per sources close to Outside the Huddle, SAC coaches and athletic directors are nearing an agreement on the adoption of a two-division format, non-conference games and “crossover division games” for football beginning in the 2023 season.
In the plan that OTH is told is “very close” to being endorsed, the SAC will be split into two divisions – big school and small school – similar to the format currently used in the Northeast Corner Conference.
The big school division will feature Bishop Dwenger, Carroll, Homestead, Northrop and Snider.
The small school division will consist of Bishop Luers, Concordia Lutheran, North Side, South Side and Wayne.
It is uncertain at this time just who would need to pass this plan to make it official, although sense says it will be the athletic directors, but it will need to have unanimous approval by the 10 member schools.
Under the proposal, each team’s schedule will have Weeks 1 and 2 open for non-conference competition. The next six weeks will see teams play all four of their division opponents and three crossover games against teams from the other division. Some of these inter-divisional games will be rotated, but others will be used to protect rivalries such as the Battle of the Bishops. The traditional Week 7 “SAC Rivalry Week” will remain intact with the current games.
OTH has also been told that an SAC schedule for the first six years of this new format has already been prepared, pending the plan’s adoption.
The SAC championship will be crowned by taking the division winners’ head-to-head matchup as the decider. In the event the two teams did not players, they will be crowned co-champions.
OTH has been told that while there is near-unanimous support for this radically-changed setup for the league, it has not been greeted with universal approval from all parties, due to a few factors.
One point that has been brought up involves the fact that schools in the small division will sacrifice a considerable amount of big-time tests by not playing the entirety of the league powerhouses. Concordia Lutheran and Bishop Luers have each benefited in the postseason from playing a tough, higher-class schedule.
The other is a concern that suitable opponents will be difficult to find. But considering the amount of programs that would be willing to schedule SAC foes just in this region, especially a Northeast 8 Conference that also has its non-conference games in Weeks 1-2, this feels like a considerable non-factor.
While some may love this new format and others not so much, it guarantees the ability for SAC schools to challenge themselves outside of the conference and allow areas of the state to see Fort Wayne’s best in terms of programs and talent.
In some circles, the recent era that saw Elmhurst High School close in 2010 and Harding one year later, allowing SAC programs to step out of the region, was sensational. High-profile matchups included Snider taking on the likes of Penn and Cathedral, Bishop Dwenger challenging Cincinnati LaSalle and Bishop Luers traveling to out-of-state powerhouses like Columbus Hartley and Toledo Whitmer.
Conversely, other SAC teams were able to find like-talented squads to play, with South Side and Arsenal Tech building a mini-rivalry and Northrop adding central Indiana teams such as Anderson and Muncie South.
The ability to schedule out-of-conference games disappeared when Homestead and Carroll entered the league in 2015.
Over the last six seasons, grumblings have only grown about the regular-season schedule within Fort Wayne growing stale, area 6A programs with the inability to compete with its compatriots due to lack of games against like-sized schools and the allure of seeing big inter-conference matchups within northeast Indiana, such as Leo vs. Bishop Dwenger, East Noble vs. Carroll or Eastside vs. Bishop Luers (in the regular season).
While nothing is assured as of this time, this is the closest the SAC has gotten to real change that brings what many consider one of the top three leagues in the state into the present day in terms of scheduling.
NOTE: This story has been updated from a previous version that detailed a Week 9 “Championship Week.” OTH has learned that that aspect of the new format did not pass approval by the coaches.