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Alpena could join new football conference in 2022 as Traverse City schools leave Big North

News File Photo Alpena running back Kadyn Budnick (32) carries the ball during a Week 2 football game against Cheboygan in Alpena's home opener on Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium.

ALPENA — Alpena’s football schedule — and possibly its conference affiliation — will look drastically different next season.

Traverse City West and Traverse City Central announced last week their intention to join the Saginaw Valley League starting in 2022. The move is for football only, but effectively ends the Big North Conference for football after 24 seasons.

Alpena will still compete with West and Central in Big North play in other sports.

Alpena High Athletic Director Jon Studley said the four remaining Big North schools — Alpena, Petoskey, Gaylord, and Cadillac — will look to join the Northern Michigan Football Conference in 2022.

“For the rest of the Big North Conference — the four teams that are left — we felt it was best not to play them (West and Central),” Studley said. “Competitively, we feel we’re (all) pretty close.”

NMFC commissioner Dave Jackson told the Traverse City Record-Eagle that a proposal from conference athletic directors was approved last week, but won’t be voted on until later this month.

The proposal involves the creation of a fourth division in the NMFC with the remaining Big North schools joining Cheboygan and Sault Ste. Marie, according to the Record-Eagle.

The conference currently has 20 teams — split into three divisions — including former Big North Conference member, Ogemaw Heights.

The move by the Traverse City schools will end two longtime rivalries, but might come as a relief for Alpena, who has struggled mightily against both programs.

Since the Big North’s inception in 1997, the Wildcats have never beaten West in 24 tries. Alpena is also 5-19 against the Trojans in Big North play and hasn’t recorded a win over Central since 2009.

“We have to get super creative when we play them. It’s a schematic week for us because of their speed, athleticism, and ability,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell said of both programs. “They run so many formations that it’s tough and you have to be perfect on every play.”

Comparatively, Alpena is 6-18 against Gaylord, 6-18 against Petoskey, and 8-17 against Cadillac in that same 24-year span.

In 24 seasons, West and Central have combined to win 18 conference titles and have won more than 70% of their conference games.

Rumblings of West and Central leaving have been going on for some time, according to Studley, and the move to a new conference should allow Alpena to cut down on travel time and stay competitive on the field.

“This would be a much better fit for us and puts us on a (similar competition) level with all the schools,” Studley said.

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