FREELAND — Long regarded as one of the top athletic conferences in Mid-Michigan, the Big Nine Conference will disband, pending approval from the four remaining Big Nine athletic directors. The Saginaw Valley announced Tuesday that all four Big Nine schools—Davison, Carman-Ainsworth, Flushing and Flint Powers Catholic—were accepted into the Saginaw Valley Conference, effective the 2012-13 school year.
The Saginaw Valley will then become a two-division power league, with the preliminary league makeup including Bay City Central, Bay City Western, Midland, Midland Dow, Mt. Pleasant, Saginaw and Saginaw Arthur Hill in the North division. Saginaw Heritage, Flint Northwestern, Carman-Ainsworth, Davison, Flushing, Flint Powers Catholic, Flint Northern and Flint Southwestern Academy would make up the South division. Flint Northwestern was granted entry along with the Big Nine schools on Tuesday.
“There’s been a process to the whole thing. Until you have the vote in hand, you never know,” said Saginaw Valley League Executive Director Pete Ryan on Tuesday.
Mirroring the concerns of current Saginaw Valley athletic directors, several of the current Big Nine coaches and athletic directors expressed concern about added travel with the new league, but in the end, the new mega league was accepted.
The Big Nine consisted of 10 schools from 1976-96 before Owosso was the first to leave the league. Flint Beecher was removed from the conference in 2001-02, and Owosso rejoined the conference. A slew of teams began to flee the conference with Clio leaving in 2005-06 for the Flint Metro League. Swartz Creek joined the Metro in 2006-07, Owosso left for a second time joining the Capital Area Activities Conference in 2007-08 and Flint Kearsley left for the Metro in 2008.
The remaining Big Nine schools– including Grand Blanc before it joined the Kensington Lakes Activities Association two years ago– had petitioned to join the Flint Metro League and Genesee Area Conference. The group was denied entry by both leagues, which were happy with the then-10 member Metro league before Oxford exited this past fall and the two-division GAC conference. Other single schools have joined the GAC-Blue in recent years with Webberville, Dryden and Morrice now current members.
But, let’s be clear, as the current Big Nine schools are putting this season front and center because now it’s the final season in which teams can earn the conference title. It may be a small four-member league, but it’s still very much intact and a title is a title.
“I think there is a lot of good about it. The programs that will benefit the most will be the one-division sports of hockey and swimming, said Bob Root, athletic director and boys’ basketball coach at Carman-Ainsworth. “Now they will be playing the teams up north for a championship. Some sports will have two divisions, others will be all together with the teams that don’t have complete teams. The bottom line is, we didn’t have any other options. This was the best alternative at the time, so we’re looking forward to being part of the Valley. Travel was a big issue on both sides and that’s why the Valley was also interested in the solution.”
“As for the new league, as a kid I went to Flint Central and grew up in the Saginaw Valley league, so it’s kind of neat for me as a Valley player,” said Davison baseball coach Timm Rye. “It’s a win-win and eliminates a lot of travel for the northern half of the Valley. On our half, it gives us a larger conference to work with. It will be a little easier for scheduling and such down the road, also.”
The Big Nine had remained relevant on a statewide level with just its four members, picking up state titles and semifinal berths in several sports. The Davison football program advanced to the state semifinals in 2008, and Flint Powers won a Div. 4 state football title in 2005. Powers’ basketball earned a Class B state championship in 2009.