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October 23, 2013
By: Butch Harmon

Realignment coming to CAAC


SCHOOLS:

By BUTCH HARMON
Who says bigger is always better?
Over the past several years, the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) was one of the largest high school athletic conferences in the state. It contained 26 teams and was broken into four divisions.
Starting next fall, the league will be smaller, as several teams are on their way out of the league, and the remaining teams will be spread over three divisions.
Schools scheduled to leave the league this year include Charlotte, Corunna, Lumen Christi Catholic, Northwest, Western, Lakewood, and Stockbridge.
The defections leave the CAAC with 20 teams over three divisions. Long-time CAAC Blue teams Eastern, East Lansing, Everett, Grand Ledge, Holt, Jackson, Okemos, and Sexton will still make up one division. DeWitt, Haslett, Mason, Owosso, St. Johns, and Waverly will comprise a second division, while Eaton  Rapids, Fowlerville, Ionia, Lansing Catholic, Portland, and Williamston will make up the third division.
The net bottom line of the defections and reorganization is a leaner, more compact league where traveling has been trimmed. No longer will Lansing-area teams make the lengthy trip to Jackson to face Lumen Christi, Northwest, or Western. Corunna eliminates one of the farthest road trips to the east.
“I don’t think it was much of a surprise,” St. Johns athletic director Chris Ervin said. “We knew this was coming for the most part. I’m kind of excited about the shrinking boundaries of the league. I think it’s a good thing. By losing the schools from the south, the three Jackson schools, it will pull the boundaries back.”  
Changing leagues is nothing new in sports today. The Big 10 Conference expands from 12 to 14 teams next year. The once massive Big East Conference has been whittled to bare bones. The Southeastern Conference and the Pacific 12 have both expanded, while the Sun Belt and Conference USA have seen massive makeovers. “I think it looks good going forward,” said Mason athletic director Greg Lattig. “We live in a society where change is more prevalent.
“I think with the three divisions we now have, we will have a good, competitive balance,” he continued. “I think it is a good arrangement by size and a more uniform geography than what we had in the past. I think we can have a strong league with three divisions.”
The restructuring of the league will also improve the overall competitiveness of the league. “The proposal looks good,” said East Lansing coach Thomas Hunt. “It gives schools a competitive opportunity. The travel also looks pretty good.”
The one constant is the CAAC Blue remaining the same. Change, however, could come down the road if the Lansing school district decides to close Eastern or Sexton High School.
The new proposal keeps open the flexibility for the league to further downsize or to increase in size. “It allows us the flexibility to add more schools if other schools are interested in joining the league,” Hunt said. “If some schools think they want to move on or to join the league, it will allow us to do that as well.”
For Mason, the change in the league will not have much of an effect. “Owosso is in our division, and that will be our farthest trip,” Lattig said. “We’ve been in a division with them before, and it was not an issue before.”
The CAAC was formed in 2003 when schools from the old Capital Area Conference (CAC) and Capital Circuit (CC) combined. Since then, a number of schools have moved into and out of the league. This season the league began with 27 teams.
The league has made changes and added teams over the years since its inception. While bigger is usually seen as better, that’s not always the case.
“I don’t think expansion is always a good thing,” Ervin said. “You have to be careful in the schools you bring in. You want to make sure it’s good for the long term. I think bringing back the three divisions will be a good thing.”
The most recent school to leave the CAAC was Corunna. The Corunna school board voted unanimously September 16 to leave the CAAC and join the Genesee Athletic Conference.
The move actually had a benefit for the CAAC. Had Corunna stayed in the league, the breakdown of the conference divisions would ave been eight teams, six teams, and seven teams. The uneven number of teams would have made scheduling more difficult for the seven-team division. With all the divisions at an even number, scheduling is more uniform.
The new divisional breakdown also keeps a lot of rivalries in place. Old CAC rivals Holt, Grand Ledge, East Lansing, Sexton, Everett, and Eastern will continue their storied rivalries on the gridiron and hardwood, as well as in other sports.
The DeWitt-Haslett rivalry will continue, as well as the annual battles between Haslett and St. Johns and between DeWitt and St. Johns.
Tennis powerhouses Lansing Catholic, Portland, and Williamston will continue to battle. Western schools Portland and Ionia will now be in the same division, which will renew a great Ionia County rivalry.