Change is coming to the Greater Catholic League Coed Division. How much remains to be seen.
The Southwest Ohio prep athletic league came into existence in 2013-14 in a two-division format — Badin, Roger Bacon, Purcell Marian and McNicholas in the Central, and Fenwick, Chaminade Julienne, Alter and Carroll in the North.
With the GCL Coed schools voting this winter to merge into one division in 2019-20, Purcell and Bacon have chosen to apply to the Miami Valley Conference. That has put the remaining schools in a state of contemplation about what their future may look like.
“These are interesting times for the GCL Coed,” said Tom Donnelly, who took over as league commissioner last August. “I think it’s great to be involved with innovative things that try to uniquely satisfy a lot of different schools of different sizes and locations. I think we’re up to it.”
The vote to go to one division was 5-3. Badin, Purcell and Bacon were in the minority, voting for two divisions with the possibility of becoming one division in team sports with less than eight schools participating.
Badin athletic director Geoff Melzer said even though his school chose to make something of a concession vote, “We’ve always been for one division. If we’re in a league, we want to play everybody in the league.”
At Fenwick, athletic director Michael Coleman said it wasn’t a hard decision to vote for one division.
“I just think, ‘We’re small. Let’s be one league,’ ” he said. “I don’t think there’s any other eight-team leagues in Ohio that are split into two divisions.
“When it comes to first-team awards and recognition, there’s more of that when there’s two divisions. It looks good on paper and you can market it and promote it, but there’s more of a challenge with one division. There’s not going to be any handouts.”
The issue of football competitiveness is a big one for Purcell and Bacon, who are waiting to hear about the status of their MVC applications.
In the two-division setup, all GCL Coed football teams still play each other once a season. Purcell and Bacon have struggled mightily in football league play in recent years and aren’t thrilled with the amount of travel all of their sports have to make to Hamilton, Middletown and Dayton.
The GCL Coed can’t do any football scheduling for 2019-20 until Purcell and Bacon get an answer from the MVC. Donnelly said everything is on the table right now, including a football alliance with Columbus-area schools Hartley, DeSales, Watterson, Ready and all-boys St. Charles from the Central Catholic League.
The CCL and GCL Coed had a meeting March 15 to discuss such an alliance. It would not be a merger of the two leagues. It would simply be two leagues with similar interests helping each other with scheduling.
For example, if Purcell and Bacon go to the MVC, the GCL Coed would be a six-team league with five league games for each school. An alliance with the Columbus schools could help fill whatever open slots remain in Weeks 4-10. And the schools would try to do matchups based on competitiveness so that it’s an appealing situation for both sides.
If Purcell and Bacon stay in the GCL Coed, there is the possibility of playing less league games while still having the alliance. That could help Purcell and Bacon with competitiveness, but obviously not with travel and local rivalries.
“I’ve shared with Roger Bacon and Purcell that this relationship we’re developing with the Central Catholic League could address many or some of the concerns which caused them to look elsewhere in the first place,” Donnelly said. “I hope they’ll see it that way. I’d like for them to remain in the league.
“I’ve got a good feeling about this possible alliance. We can be creative. If we have eight teams in our league, the alliance allows us the opportunity to structure competitiveness. If we’re at six teams, you could argue that it gets close to being a necessity because of filling byes.”
Coleman and Melzer are both in favor of working with the Columbus schools, who made the initial contact in this conversation. There will be a meeting of athletic directors and football coaches April 19 to do some theoretical alliance scheduling to see what it might look like if the GCL Coed has six, seven or eight teams.
“I think everybody’s open to exploring a lot of different ideas and trying to make it happen,” Coleman said. “I think it’s good for Catholic schools … period. With competitive balance and leagues getting smaller, it’s kind of a way to self-preserve and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this.’ We can continue that fellowship of Catholic schools and create bonds with our brother and sister schools in Columbus.”
Fenwick has already added Watterson to its football schedule in 2019 and 2020, though that came before the talk of an alliance.
Another possibility: An alliance could result in annual CCL/GCL Coed showcase events in sports like basketball and soccer.
“Best-case scenario … I want the league to stay intact. Purcell and Roger Bacon stay and we can work out some kind of alliance across the board in different sports,” Melzer said. “I think it has a ton of potential.”
Donnelly, a former athletic director at Clark Montessori and Walnut Hills, is a graduate of St. Xavier.
He’s excited about helping the GCL Coed shape its future.
“I’m kind of happy that I get to be involved in deciding what it’s going to look like. I think the viability of Catholic education is in part determined by the athletic achievements of its schools because often that’s what some people know most about a school,” Donnelly said.
“All schools are trying to find the best fit for their kids. It’s always evolving. It’s always changing. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of leagues reforming and reshaping. But I’m committed to Catholic education.”