Earlier this summer, it seemed as if four members of the Sangamon Valley Conference in football — Seneca, Dwight, Clifton Central and Momence — might be left out in the cold when three of their league rivals announced their intentions to leave beginning in 2021-22.
As things turned out, they were invited back in ... sort of.
Those four will be joining Iroquois West and Watseka in a six-school division of what will be the 12-team Vermilion Valley Conference Football Alliance.
Current Sangamon Valley members Iroquois West, Watseka, Seneca, Dwight, Clifton Central and Momence will make up half of the VVC Football Alliance; current Vermilion Valley members Bismarck-Henning, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Hoopeston, Oakwood, Salt Fork and Westville will make up the other division. Current SVC school Paxton-Buckley-Loda — the first to announce it planned to leave the Sangamon Valley following the 2020-21 school year, beginning the current breakup — will be joining the Illini Prairie Conference.
Seneca Athletic Director Steve Haines confirmed the new conference setup Monday, stating that the Seneca school board is expected to confirm the move at its meeting later this week.
For Seneca, the change is only for football, with Fighting Irish teams in other sports remaining in the Tri-County Conference.
"It sets up almost exactly the way it was before," Haines said. "It does offer us one additional long trip every other year (for a third conference crossover contest as opposed to the two the Sangamon Valley schedules with Vermilion Valley Conference teams currently). The way (Seneca head coach Ted O'Boyle) and I look at it, it's basically status quo from what we're doing now with the exception of that one long trip."
Vermilion Valley Football Alliance teams will play their five divisional rivals and three crossover opponents from the other division beginning in 2021, leaving one open date for each to schedule. Currently, that spot not part of the Fighting Irish's conference commitments on Seneca's schedule is filled by rival Ottawa Marquette in Week 1.
Marquette was one of the schools whose name was brought up as a potential conferencemate for Seneca and Dwight before this new arrangement with the Vermilion Valley was hammered out.
"We explored avenues of other football-only conferences, and we explored avenues of forming a new football-only conference," said Haines, "but those didn't go anywhere. But we can continue to explore those opportunities."
It may not be a perfect solution, Haines admits, but it is certainly better than being without a conference home as seemed possible just a month and a half ago.
"It worked out," Haines said. "I think it's a good solution. Whether it's the solution for the next 25 years, that's for someone else to figure out, as I'm done here (planning to retire) in a couple years. But in terms of being a solution that will last us the next handful of years, I think it's a good fit for us.
"I don't know if this is the long-term solution. Time will tell."