Nazareth's Tyler Morris gets past the grips of Benet during their game Sept. 21.
Nazareth's Tyler Morris gets past the grips of Benet during their game Sept. 21. — Erica Benson for Shaw Media

Two of the state’s most powerful football conferences will join forces for the 2019 season.

The East Suburban Catholic Conference and Chicago Catholic League announced a merger, for football only, starting next year. The move revives the short-lived Chicago Metropolitan League, which competed from 1996 to 2002.

The league will have 24 teams, split into six four-team divisions aligned by male enrollment, football participation numbers and success over the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Marian Central coach Mike Maloney said each team will have two nonconference games, two crossover games with teams from a larger division, two crossovers with teams from a smaller division and three division games.

“It’s something that provides a lot of equity,” Maloney said. “It’s a long-standing, proud tradition of a group of schools that are very balanced and like-minded as far as academics and athletics. The more of those school we can gather in the same organization, the better it will be for all of us.”

ESCC and CCL officials released a statement Thursday morning announcing the merger:

"School leadership felt strongly that combining the football portion of the leagues would lead to increased parity among programs, based on like enrollment, football participation, and team success," the statement read. "With schools playing opponents more similar to themselves, the opportunity to garner success and grow programs is great. Most importantly, the two illustrious leagues share in their Catholic mission, and put faith formation, academics, and the maturation of young men at the forefront."

Marian Central currently plays in the ESCC. It has been challenging for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs in that league, but once there, they advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals each of the past two seasons.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be much different,” Maloney said. “We already, within our conference, are playing a couple powerhouses. I don’t know if it makes it easier or harder to be honest. It gives [the conference] more flexibility to take care of some of the smaller schools in our divisions and conference.”

Marian athletic director Curtis Price said the conferences began discussing a possible merger last year.

“With all the changes around the state, all the switching everyone is doing because of football, the conversations have always been there,” Price said. “The talks really got going in the summer. Both sides had a committee, four from each conference. They met all summer to discuss things and see if this could be a possibility for all the schools involved.”

Along with Marian Central, the ESCC has Benet, Carmel, Joliet Catholic, Marian Catholic, Marist, Nazareth, Niles Notre Dame, St. Patrick and St. Viator.

The CCL has Brother Rice, De La Salle, DePaul, Fenwick, Leo, Loyola, Marmion, Chicago Mount Carmel, Montini, Providence, St. Laurence, St. Rita, St. Ignatius and St. Joseph.

Chicago Hope Academy, the CCL’s 15th school, was omitted from the merger.