OVAC extends its borders with expansion into Tuscarawas Co.

WHEELING — Is bigger better?

That appears the question after the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference has expanded to another new geographic frontier – that being Tuscarawas County.

Dover and New Philadelphia are the latest additions to the OVAC after being unanimously approved at Wednesday’s mandatory athletic directors meeting. Both are quality academic and athletics institutions.

The ancient rivals are located just some six miles apart, much like Bellaire and Martins Ferry. The Tornadoes and Quakers, however, do bring about some travel issues if they become full-fledged competitive conference members. Both schools will also remain ECOL members.

Wheeling is the hub of the OVAC. Traveling from the Friendly City to Dover/New Philadelphia is no tougher trip than a trek to Morgantown, the home to three OVAC members.

Travel concerns raise their head when Dover or New Philadelphia play either University or Morgantown. The trip is roughly 165 miles one-way, nearly three hours via school bus.

That is no major issue on a football Friday night or weekend basketball game. School classes do no come into play the following day.

That 300-mile round trip does become problematic when it must be made on a school night.

While schools can often times schedule around such elongated weekday trips, they often times become unavoidable.

Case in point…the OVAC Basketball Championships.

The girls tourney semifinals are held on Mondays and the consolations games on Thursdays. The top seeds host the semifinals.

For argument purposes, let’s say in 5A, Morgantown is No. 1 seed, Dover No. 2, University No. 3 and New Philadelphia No. 4. The two Tuscarawas teams must travel to Morgantown on a Monday.

Regardless of the respective outcomes, the Quakers and Tornadoes would be rolling back into Tuscarawas County somewhere around midnight if not later. That makes it real tough on those student-athletes the next day.

It could get worse.

Should Morgantown beat New Philadelphia while Dover beats University, another long trip awaits the Quakers. They would be scheduled to visit University in the consolation game just three days after its elongated trip to Morgantown, resulting in another late night/early morning school day return.

If academics are a school’s top priority, as they should be, two weekday excursions of such length are a lot to ask of students.

Such demanding travel is the lone drawback I have with the Tusky two joining the OVAC.

The positives are several.

First, both schools boast great athletic traditions with excellent facilities while also rating high in academics.

Secondly, adding two 5A schools will help balance class configuration, starting with the 2020-21 academic year. Currently, the 5A class ranges from Morgantown with some 1,400 students in three grades while Indian Creek sits at the bottom of the class with less than 500.

An extra 900 students provide an enormous athletic advantage in every sport, year-in and year-out. Ironically, Andrew Connor’s Indian Creek Redskins pocketed the OVAC 5A crown this fall.

Creek will now slot into a more natural 4A setting. Either Weir or Steubenville will also move down a class. Each has an enrollment slightly higher than Creek.

Adding New Philadelphia and Dover will help bolster the Class 1A.

The conference’s smallest class often times has schools that cannot field teams in respective sports. Case in point – Cameron in softball this spring. The OVAC will also lose St. John’s in June as it is targeted for closure.

Using the current OVAC enrollment figures, Steubenville Central and Wellsville would slide down to 1A. That could change as Caldwell, Clay-Battelle and Toronto each have numbers just above Steubenville Central and Wellsville.

Moving any of those two schools down to Class 1A will yield much healthier competitive competition.

When Morgantown, University and Parkersburg South entered the OVAC some 10 years ago, it changed the landscape of the OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game. The West Virginia all-star team has won with more frequency with the infusion of big-school, prime-time talent.

Dover and New Philadelphia are both football powers. Should they opt to take part in in the mid-summer grid classic, the talent level tilts back to the Ohio side.

Steubenville’s Reno Saccoccia is one football coach who is ecstatic about the two new members. Finding OVAC football foes has been no easy task for the Big Red.

“I love adding Dover and New Philadelphia. We play both of them,” Saccoccia said. “They make us OVAC championship eligible.”

Future OVAC expansion is becoming constricted. Other Tuscarawas County schools such as Claymont and Newcomerstown may prove options down the road.

Three additional possibilities are down south in the form of St. Marys, Marietta and Parkersburg. All three were OVAC members at one time.

Other than those handful of possibilities, feasible expansion is not on the radar.

Also during Wednesday’s OVAC athletic directors’ meeting, Wheeling Central head football coach Mike Young proposed forming a committee to study the possibility of mandatory football scheduling. His motion did not receive enough support.

Personally, I see no problem in forming such as fact-finding panel. Scheduling football for many schools in the Ohio Valley has become challenging to say the least. There is no harm letting a committee probe the process.

BUBBA’S BITS

I TOLD you so. In last week’s column I predicted Tiger Woods would win The Masters. He did just that in pocketing his 15th career major.

TORONTO HIGH product Blaze Glenn enjoyed a superb Saturday for the Youngstown State baseball team. The former Red Knight three-sport star hit two home runs, walked once and drove in four runs in an 8-5 loss to Milwaukee.

KUDOS TO all those who helped make the 42nd Dick Dei Track Classic a smashing success. The meet featured exceptional talent, ran smoothly and was blessed by ideal weather.

WVU AND Ohio State both must replace big-time quarterbacks. Based on Saturday’s spring games, the Mountaineers may have a quality replacement in Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall while Justin Fields appears a budding star for the Buckeyes.

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