Conference realignment isn't only in the air on football's college level these days.
Chestnut Ridge has sent a letter of inquiry to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference asking to be considered for membership if there are any openings, athletic director Mark Clevenger said on Monday.
"We have to solve our football dilemma,'' said Clevenger, whose team has six varsity games scheduled for next year and has been in contact with at least a dozen other schools to try to fill four open dates. "We have to find a league or a conference that will take us in in all sports or in football only.
"To be honest with you, we're desperate.''
An independent since withdrawing from the Mountain Athletic Conference in 2008 before ever playing a game in that loop, Ridge has had discussions with the LHAC as recently as last year. At the time, the Lions were turned away because the Laurel Highlands bylaws require an equal number of teams in order to expand, and a partner for Ridge couldn't be found.
This year, the talks between Ridge and the LHAC might have legs, though. Ligonier Valley - the school that entertained thoughts of going in with Chestnut Ridge before deciding to remain in the Heritage Conference - is again looking at its options.
The only Class AA school with eight Class A teams in the Heritage since it absorbed Laurel Valley a year ago, Ligonier is expected to make a decision as early as mid-October on whether to stay in its current conference or apply to admission to the LHAC or WPIAL. The Heritage doesn't offer championships in a number of sports Ligonier offers.
Ligonier and Ridge haven't had much contact, but what they have has been significant.
"They wanted to know if we were still interested in the Laurel Highlands if they were,'' Clevenger said.
Ironically, both Chestnut Ridge and Ligonier Valley have been members of the LHAC in the past. Ridge played in the conference up to 2000, when it joined the Inter-County Conference. Ligonier left a year later to become a founding member of the Heritage, although it was in the midst of a contract with the LHAC at the time.
Central Cambria athletic director Ron Stempka, the secretary of the LHAC, said that once/if the conference received a letter of application from Ligonier, the wheels could begin turning very quickly, pending an OK from the current members' school boards.
"We would work a system out and get them in as soon as possible,'' Stempka said. "The cycle comes up next year.''
Even if Ligonier decides against joining the LHAC, some other doors could be open for Ridge. Part of the reason the Lions are in such a scheduling fix right now is because the Heritage Conference and the WestPAC, both with an odd number of teams, have decided to help fill each other's schedules next year by having the teams with open dates in each conference face each other. Ridge, which has been rebuffed twice in the past in attempts to join the WestPAC, has been playing several teams from that conference like Portage, Windber, Berlin Brothersvalley, Conemaugh Township and North Star since it went independent.
Should Ligonier join the WPIAL, the Heritage would be back to an even number of schools and not have teams with byes, meaning Ridge might be an option to fill WestPAC open dates again.
Another possibility exists in the Mountain League, which replaced the Mountain Athletic Conference. It will be down to nine teams next year with Juniata leaving.
Central AD Chuck Gojmerac said the Mountain League already has its schedules in place for 2012 and 2013 without Juniata, but Ridge could be considered in 2014.
"From Central's perspective, we'd like to see them get in. We think they'd be a great fit,'' Gojmerac said. "A handful of schools might be questionable [on admitted Ridge] because they came in in 2008 and withdrew about a week later. St. Marys came in to take their place.''
Ridge has maintained that move was made because of travel. However, with the Mifflin County schools now out and the league not requiring the smaller schools to play the larger ones, most of the longer trips Chestnut Ridge would have had to make in the Mountain League have been eliminated.
"We're listening to anything that might be an advantage to us,'' Clevenger said. "We'll have to see what it might end up being.''