Thought 1A: It seems obvious that the Mississippi 8 won't exist for long as a 6 team league and has already talked to the St. Cloud area schools about joining. So that is the big elephant in the room that needs to be addressed first. Here's what I'd do for a new league.
Mississippi Lakes East - Cambridge-Isanti, Buffalo, STMA, Rogers, Elk River, St. Francis
Mississippi Lakes West - Rocori, Tech, Apollo, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, Willmar
The St. Cloud schools want in? I can oblige them. The league wants Elk River? I can do that too despite Elk River's past refusals. Teams would play 16 league games in a divisional schedule with home and home against your division and 1 game against the other division split 3 home and 3 away. This puts the 4A teams on 1 side and 3A teams on the other with Tech as the exception. Look at the rivalries in this league. CI vs St. Francis, Buffalo vs STMA, Rogers vs Elk River in a district game, Tech vs Apollo, Sartell vs Sauk Rapids. Even Rocori and Willmar. Those pairs of teams would be the "travel partners" for purposes of balancing out travel each year. That means you would have only 1 bad cross-division trip a year. i.e. West teams would travel to St. Francis or Cambridge-Isanti but not both. East teams would travel to Rocori or Willmar, but not both. The long travel games would be scheduled for Friday nights.
There are plenty of other benefits to this proposal as well and they impact the immediate metro.
- It chops the North Suburban and Northwest Suburban down to a manageable 10 teams from the obnoxious number of 11.
- It takes away an outlying member to limit travel in those leagues that they're leaving.
- It would allow the North Suburban to go back to a balanced league schedule.
North Central Lakes - Alexandria, Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Bemidji, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Grand Rapids
This gives 3 independents a place to play (Grand Rapids, Moorhead and Bemidji) with travel that isn't all that bad. Each team has 2 others that are close enough to play on a Tuesday night (Detroit Lakes to Bemidji is borderline though). So league play would be 4 Tuesday nights (2 in January and 2 in Feb against the 2 close schools) and the last 8 Fridays of the season for long trips. A 12 game league schedule and a holiday tournament means these teams only have to find 8 to 10 other games. Here are the pairings for the Tuesday games.
Alexandria - Brainerd & Fergus Falls
Bemidji - Grand Rapids & Detroit Lakes
Brainerd - Alexandria & Grand Rapids
Detroit Lakes - Moorhead & Bemidji
Fergus Falls - Moorhead & Alexandria
Moorhead - Detroit Lakes & Fergus Falls
Thought 1C: I didn't forget about Monticello and Big Lake from the Mississippi 8. The Wright County needs a 12th team so we'll add Monticello (largest school in the league) and put them in the east division with the other growing schools from the western fringes of the metro. That would make the Wright County look like this.
Wright County East - Holy Family, Delano, Orono, Waconia, Mound-Westonka, Monticello
Wright County West - New London-Spicer, Annandale, Litchfield, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Dassel-Cokato, Hutchinson
Thought 1D: Big Lake would go with neighbor Becker to the Granite Ridge. With Melrose likely being placed in the Granite Ridge by the MSHSL, that would put that league at 11 teams. Of course I can't allow that. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it so from the history of the old Rum River Conference, I add Pine City from the Great River to make 12 teams. That would cut the Great River down to a perfect size of 8 teams. They'd split as follows with same scheduling rules as my new Mississippi Lakes Conference. Becker and Big Lake go west because of proximity to the interstate and to keep traditional Rum River rivalries in the east.
Granite Ridge East - Foley, Milaca, Mora, Princeton, Zimmerman, Pine City
Granite Ridge West - Little Falls, St. Cloud Cathedral, Albany, Melrose, Becker, Big Lake