By JEFF WENDLAND
Special to the Herald-Whig
GENESEO, Ill. — It took all of six minutes for the Pledge of Allegiance, a quick roll call, a short presentation by superintendent Scott Kuffel and a 5-0 vote for the Geneseo School Board to approve the school’s move to the Western Big Six Conference at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Sterling athletic director Greg King met with his School Board a few hours later to map out its intentions to also join the WB6, with the decision officially announced Thursday morning in a press release.
The former Northern Illinois Big 12 rivals are joining Rock Island Alleman, Rock Island, Moline, United Township, Galesburg and Quincy in a yet-to-be renamed conference for the 2019-20 school year.
King said Sterling looked at every option available, and it came down to either the Big Six or playing as an independent.
“Our superintendent told the board it will be an administrative decision, so no board vote was needed,” he said.
Quincy High School athletic director Scott Douglas says everybody in the league is excited.
“We are bringing in two quality schools with great athletic programs,” he said. “This is going to be a great endeavor.”
Alleman principal and WB6 president Dave Hobin said the league has been open to growth for a long time.
“We came close in 2013 (when the WB6 considered adding Peoria-area schools), but this just fit perfect for all sides,” he said. “Our schools are unanimously behind this decision.”
Kuffel said Sterling’s administration got the talks with the WB6 rolling in recent weeks.
“When the Big 12 lost several teams, we had a deal with the Interstate 8 Conference,” Kuffel said about a Joliet-area league. “A couple of weeks ago, there was talk of adding an eighth team to the I-8. It came down to Sterling or Sycamore, and Sycamore was the choice.
“That left Sterling without a conference, and they approached the Big 6. But they wanted to have eight teams and said, ‘What would Geneseo do if they were invited.’ When Sterling came to us, it just made too much sense geographically.”
Geneseo athletic director Joe Nichols said Sterling did a lot of the legwork.
“We wanted Sterling with us in the Interstate 8, and when (the Interstate 8) went with Sycamore, it really became a problem in terms of miles we were going to have to travel,” Nichols said. “We wanted to be tied with Sterling, and when they stepped forward to go to the Big 6, we were all in.
“We met with our coaches and had an informal vote whether to proceed. It was unanimous to pursue this.”
Geneseo school board president Doug Ford called the vote a “no-brainer.”
“The data all shows it is the way to go,” he said. “It is really something that should have been done 20 years ago. Our coaches love it, and I haven’t heard any backlash from our fans.”
Kuffel said the move is going to save the district plenty of money and get the school’s teams home a lot earlier than they have in recent years. He said travel in the NIB-12 was 26,000 miles for athletics last year, and that figure will be between 14,000 and 15,000 miles in the WB6.
“That savings is huge, and it is good for our kids and fans,” Kuffel said. “If we went with the I-8, our average travel would have been 70 miles per game. In the Big 6, it will be 50 — and that’s including Quincy trips. I’d say our fans are going to enjoy a Geneseo at Rock Island game a whole lot more than a Geneseo at Kaneland trip.”
Quincy will add trips of 160 and 200 miles with the expansions.
“I’d rather not talk about downsides at this point. This is all about the positives,” Douglas said.
Geneseo will finish out its NIB-12 schedule for the 2018-19 school year.
Kuffel said he has heard plenty of talk about the Maple Leafs joining the WB6 as the “little brother,” but he is confident in what his school’s teams can do.
“Our coaches and athletes believe we will compete,” he said.
Nichols says the move won’t be easy, especially juggling two conferences in 2018-19.
“I would think we will be getting together with all of the Big 6 athletic directors and start to work on scheduling,” he said. “Some of the Big 6 school programs are scheduled 10 years out. What I do know is … we are looking at four extra conference games for every current league team.”