It’s business as usual for the Roger Bacon and Purcell Marian prep athletic teams, at least for the time being.
The Greater Cincinnati League (which eventually became the Greater Catholic League) has been their home since Oct. 6, 1931, and they’ve been part of the GCL Coed Division since it came to life in 2013-14.
But Bacon and Purcell are also in a holding pattern. They’ve both applied for membership in the Miami Valley Conference, and there’s no timetable for them to get an answer.
“There was no solicitation on their behalf. We asked, they didn’t, so we’re at their mercy on the timing,” Purcell principal Andy Farfsing said. “In a perfect world, I would love to know in April and everyone can move forward respectively. My hope would be no later than early May.”
Seven Hills athletic director Brian Phelps is the president of the MVC. He said the conference athletic directors will have their next monthly meeting April 13.
Bacon and Purcell will certainly be discussed at that meeting, but there’s no guarantee that any decisions will be made.
“Conversations are ongoing,” Phelps said. “I don’t think we feel like we want to rush anything. We are in our first year since adding Norwood and Miami Valley Christian Academy, so I think some of our schools want to be cautious in making sure we take our time to go through all the pros and cons.”
Would he expect a vote by at least the end of the school year?
“That would be an uneducated guess from my standpoint,” Phelps said. “I’m one voice of the 12. To be honest, I just don’t know.”
Butler County schools Cincinnati Christian and New Miami are part of the MVC. Beyond Seven Hills and recent newcomers MVCA and Norwood, the other full-time members are Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Cincinnati Country Day, Summit Country Day, Clark Montessori, Lockland, North College Hill and St. Bernard.
However the vote eventually goes — and all new MVC members must be approved by at least 75 percent of the conference schools — it’s serious business for Bacon and Purcell, two of the founding members of the GCL.
“Without a doubt, this is not something that we’re taking very lightly,” Bacon principal Steve Schad said. “But we had to take a look at the realities of the situation.
“The GCL as it was founded in 1931 doesn’t exist anymore. While a lot of our alums are very attached to that idea, we had to take a look at our present students and make decisions that are in their best interests. We’ll only leave the GCL if the circumstances are good. If not, we’ll stay in the GCL and be productive members of the GCL.
“So to me, it’s a win-win situation. We remain in an extremely prestigious league, but if there’s an opportunity that allows us to best meet the needs of our current and future athletes, then we have an opportunity to take that as well.”
Bacon and Purcell don’t have exactly the same interests when it comes to finding the most compatible league situation, but they’re very similar.
In a nutshell, this is the bottom line: Athletic competitiveness is a significant factor, especially in football. But they view geography and travel as the biggest negatives of being part of the GCL Coed.
Badin and McNicholas are currently in the Central Division with Bacon and Purcell. Alter, Carroll, Chaminade Julienne and Fenwick are in the North Division.
League members recently voted (by a 5-3 margin) to merge into one division starting in 2019-20, and while GCL Coed commissioner Tom Donnelly said there may be some opportunities to do some creative scheduling, there’s a very real possibility that the one-division format will include even more travel for Bacon and Purcell.
Farfsing said in the simplest of terms, lessening the number of trips to Hamilton, Middletown and Dayton — especially during the week — would be the goal for Purcell.
“It’s a challenge. We have students that rely on public transportation when we get back to school,” Farfsing said. “So you take an hour bus ride up and an hour bus ride back and then you put a student with a Metro bus pass out on the corner to wait for their bus to get them where they’re going … and we’ve got kids on school nights that aren’t returning in some cases until the wee hours of the morning.
“I wouldn’t be doing a good job as principal if I didn’t try to adjust that in some way, shape or form. There’s value in neighborhood rivalries. There’s not a value to a student getting on a bus after getting on a bus at 11:30 at night to get home after driving home from Dayton, especially when you’re doing that twice a week.”
Schad said it’s also hard on the fans, who don’t always have the ability to make those trips.
“And for the students, those are difficult circumstances given the academic requirements of our school,” he added.
The competition piece is important when it comes to football. Bacon and Purcell haven’t had winning league records since 2010 and 2000, respectively.
“We appreciate the fact that the GCL is very competitive,” Schad said. “I think one of the challenges that Roger Bacon has — and I’ll also talk in terms of Purcell — is that we’re the smallest teams in the GCL, so it becomes increasingly more difficult to compete.
“Part of our reasoning to look for a better fit was also the opportunity to play teams that are more our size. There’s a lot of teams locally that are very good. I think we could find a competitive situation without having to travel an hour-plus away to do it.”
Farfsing said the MVC is an attractive alternative for several reasons.
“I really like how the MVC does its scheduling,” he said. “The strength and the size of a school is not the ultimate determining factor in the success of a specific sports program. We’re fantastic in basketball, but there are other sports where we have an opportunity to grow, and appropriate scheduling can help that growth over time.
“The MVC — and this is just an observation of mine having had an opportunity to meet with their athletic directors — does a great job of looking out for their own schools. I think they truly see it as a partnership amongst their league schools as opposed to just pure competition. There’s a value in that. There’s life lessons in that as well.”
What happens if the MVC doesn’t invite Bacon and/or Purcell? Schad and Farfsing say they will stay in the GCL Coed and try to get the rest of the league to act on some of their needs.
“My understanding is that until a decision is made by the MVC, a lot of the GCL scheduling has been put on hold,” Schad said. “No one has reached out to us and said, ‘Let’s sit down and find out what it would take for you to stay in the GCL.’ I welcome that phone call. It would be nice.”
The GCL Coed is exploring the possibility of an alliance with the Columbus-based Central Catholic League — which consists of Hartley, DeSales, Watterson, Ready and all-boys St. Charles — for football. The goal there would be to have matchups based on competitiveness rather than some kind of rotation.
If Bacon and Purcell move to the MVC, that alliance could help the rest of the schools fill their nonleague schedules on an annual basis.
If Bacon and Purcell remain in the GCL Coed, any number of things could happen to football scheduling, including less Dayton vs. Cincinnati league games and/or the alliance with Columbus. Or it could simply follow the one-division format of all teams playing everybody once a year.
“I understand from a scheduling standpoint where that will make it easier to find games,” Schad said of matching up with Columbus opponents. “But from a real practical standpoint, I’m not really sure how that helps us. That doesn’t really address our concerns.”
Said Farfsing, “I don’t fully understand that dynamic, but depending on how the scheduling is done, I’d be curious to learn more.”
He said Purcell wouldn’t consider an independent schedule for all sports, but could go that route in football if the school remains a GCL Coed member.
“Purcell Marian won a state championship as an independent in 1986,” Farfsing said. “When people talk about the glory years with respect to football, everybody goes back to 1986.”
Bacon and Purcell both made presentations to the MVC about a month ago, and Phelps said he was very impressed with Schad and Farfsing.
If the schools receive MVC invitations, both principals said they’ll almost certainly accept. They are committed to the GCL Coed for the 2018-19 school year.
Purcell needed approval from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to begin a new league search and received it. Farfsing said he expects continued support if an offer comes from the MVC.
Bacon requires no such approval because it isn’t part of the Archdiocese. The school is sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. John the Baptist.
“I tend to only look at things in an optimistic way, but there’s no guarantee that a change is going to be made,” Farfsing said. “Taking this kind of change lightly would be absurd. The MVC in my mind has earned a certain level of respect for who they are and what they do. It’s really only the MVC that I would consider moving to from the GCL.”
Phelps said the MVC’s diversity has naturally led to a lot of questions about adding Bacon and/or Purcell.
“As you can imagine, there’s some bigger, more competitive schools that may think it’s a good fit, and there’s some smaller schools that are just kind of asking questions about how it will affect them,” Phelps said. “There’s a reality that if they come in, it doesn’t mean the smallest or less competitive schools would necessarily have to compete with them on a regular basis.
“What I love about our conference is that I think everyone is very willing to vet the process and not have a bias either way. You would like to see how this first round of expansion goes before you jump into inviting two more schools. At the same time, I don’t think that is necessarily a deal-breaker in this situation.
“I would say that as a conference, we feel very privileged for two of the top schools in the history of Cincinnati to want to join our conference. We just want to make sure it’s the best decision for all schools involved.”