ASHLAND — When Lewis-Clark State College joins the Cascade Collegiate Conference in the fall, that likely will be the last expansion of the league for the foreseeable future.
“It’s very doubtful we’ll add (any more schools),” commissioner Rob Cashell said before Oregon Tech’s men’s basketball semifinal at Southern Oregon last weekend.
“We, the conference presidents, athletic directors and the council, feel like we geographically are as large as we can be, and are at appropriate spacing now,” he said.
The addition of Lewis-Clark State had led to some speculation other schools from the Frontier Conference (all in Montana), of which LCSC currently is a member, might be interested in joining the Cascade Collegiate Conference to make it a super conference.
Improbable, said the commissioner.
Lewis-Clark State is a good fit and will be paired with Walla Walla University to give the league six sets of travel partners, which will make scheduling easier.
Some members of the Frontier Conference, as well as a couple of other schools, will, however, maintain their associate membership in the Cascade Collegiate Conference in sports like men’s and women’s soccer, wrestling, baseball, softball, and track and field.
Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon and The College of Idaho will continue to be part of the Frontier Conference for football.
“We feel good about them coming in,” Cashell said of Lewis-Clark State. “They will change the dynamics of the league since they are good in all programs and, as a league, we’re not too shabby in most sports.”
Scheduling will be the most obvious change — especially in basketball — as well as the fact the Warriors will make every sport they participate in better in what, now, is one of the premier NAIA conferences in the nation.
“With Walla Walla,” Cashell said, “we worked on and tried different models (of scheduling over the last three seasons). Anytime you can have even numbers and travel partners, it is better for everyone.”
“We feel the conference is in a good place, and is in a good position to continue to do what we do,” he said. “We decided we wanted to be in control of our own destiny. Let’s control what we can.”
To add more schools would create additional problems and would, conceivably, mean splitting the league into divisions. There are NAIA conferences which do that, but their travel regimens are easier because of location.
Most are in the Midwest — involving schools in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
Few NAIA conferences are geographically as diverse as is the Cascade Collegiate Conference, with 10-hour road trips, one way, not uncommon.
Add the University of British Columbia, Menlo College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona into the equation in some sports as associate members, and travel in the Cascade Collegiate Conference is as difficult as any athletic league in the country, regardless of size or division.
What is a bigger focus for the league is developing knowledge of the league, its schools and its activities.
“A question we face now is how can we brand the conference,” Cashell said. “We want to get the word out. We will put more emphasis on social media. We are trying to find more ways to tell the Cascade Collegiate Conference, and NAIA, story.”
Hosting the national cross country championships helps.
The league, in February, agreed to extend its hosting of that meet in Vancouver, Wash., for the 2021 and 2023 seasons.
“It has turned into a signature event,” Cashell said, “especially since we have such a strong conference in cross country.”
Officials in Vancouver, also last month, said the three or four days runners, coaches and fans gather for the cross country championships have generated a $1.3 million impact on that community, and some people say the impact might be as high as $1.7 million.
Athletes from several Klamath Basin high schools have found the Cascade Collegiate Conference to be a place where they can have a positive athletic experience as they complete their educations. There is little reason to believe that will change any time soon.
Steve Matthies is Herald and News sports editor emeritus. He can be reached at 541-885-4411, or at email@example.com.