Grand Rapids Community College athletic teams are gearing up for longer road trips after the Michigan Community College Athletic Association (MCCAA) moved the Raiders to a newly formed Northern Conference from the Western Conference. This new Northern Conference is in addition to the already existing East and West conferences in Michigan.
The MCCAA legislative body unanimously allowed three community colleges to become members. The recent addition of Bay College, North Central Michigan College, and Southwestern Michigan College takes the membership of the MCCAA to 23 colleges.
MCCAA Executive Administrator and Athletic Director of Mott Community College Al Perry explained what prompted the creation for a new conference.
“The logistical complexities of the number of competitions and the distance between institutions demanded a strategic shift in our traditional conference divisions,” he wrote in an email to The Collegiate. “The process took six months of discussions, meetings and committee work, which culminated in an overwhelming majority vote to move in this direction, for now.”
The decision to create a third conference was made by the MCCAA through democratic vote, and as each conference has a director, the association also elected Kirtland Community College Athletic Director Don Haskins to be the Northern Conference director for the next two years.
The decision on how to split schools between conferences was based on numerous factors.
“Geography was definitely one of the primary drivers,” Perry wrote. “Another significant consideration was consistency among the sport offerings in each conference.”
Twenty-two additional sports teams joined the MCCAA this last year which will be added to the East, West, and North conferences: baseball (2), men’s basketball (4), women’s basketball (4), men’s cross country (3), women’s cross country (3), softball (1), volleyball (4), and wrestling (1). Perry clarified that there’s a significant number of institutions in the near future looking to increase the number of sports they offer. GRCC is one of those institutions, with plans to implement men’s and women’s soccer teams in the 2023-2024 academic year.
When asked if a southern conference is in the MCCAA’s future, Perry didn’t have a definitive answer.
“At this point, it will all depend on whether we continue to add institutions; which is certainly a possibility given we currently have two institutions that have applied for entrance into the MCCAA for the 24-25 competition year,” he wrote. “If the membership decides there is a better division of teams or institutions, we would certainly move toward the creation of a new conference or a reduction in the number of conferences.”
With the formation of this new conference and new teams, costs will shift, and Perry upheld that if the MCCAA had remained in only the East and West conferences, there would have been significant new costs for all the institutions.
“We discussed creating one large conference which would have created additional costs for the entire membership,” he wrote. “With that said, for individual member institutions, there will be some costs incurred with the creation of a northern conference; yet, for others, there could be significant savings incurred.” He cited Alpena Community College’s decision to create a baseball program with the savings they will have from being moved to the Northern Conference.
Now that GRCC resides in the North Conference, Athletic Director Lauren Ferullo explained how GRCC sports will be affected.
“There will definitely be increases in travel costs which will include some overnight travel to the teams in the U.P.,” she wrote in an email to The Collegiate. “We have worked with the administration to try to budget appropriately so our student athletes will still be able to compete at a high level even with the additional travel time.”
As far as the teams the Raiders will play, different schools field different types of sports. For example, GRCC doesn’t have a wrestling team, but other schools in the MCCAA have wrestling teams. So the makeup of the Northern Conference will vary between sport types.
When asked about the increased time commitment the travel will demand of GRCC athletes, Ferullo highlighted intentional scheduling and GRCC’s mentorship program for athletes.
“This was a hot topic within the North Conference,” she wrote. “We tried to minimize weekday travel for the longer trips so the teams that travel the furthest would be on the weekend…so there is less missed class time.”
Regarding the competition changes GRCC teams will face, Women’s Basketball Coach David Glazier had some thoughts.
“I don’t project there being any sort of drop in the level of competition that we will face in the conference season,” he wrote in an email to The Collegiate. “The challenge with the newer teams…like Kirtland and North Central will be learning style of play and tendencies.”
He went on to clarify that GRCC’s conference relocation won’t upend his team.
“I expect us to be ready because we will continue to challenge ourselves in the non-conference playing programs with proven track records,” he wrote. “We are going to miss the rivalries that we are losing in the divisional change, but we are also excited to see the conference grow.”
Sophomore Allison Kellogg is on the women’s basketball team and said she was shocked and a little nervous when she found out that GRCC was in a new Northern Conference.
“I’m a little nervous to see the new competition but excited to see how our team handles it, and how our coach handles it and leads us through it,” she said.
She cited the longer travel time as an obstacle.
“The longer times will definitely be harder on our bodies, like sitting for so long, and then playing right after will be a struggle,” she said. “My coach talked about having (bus) travel buddies. Us and another team, like MCC and us going up north together and playing the same team.”
Baseball Head Coach Mike Eddington commented on the conference change as well.
“I love how our old league was…just due to short travel,” he said. “We played decent teams for years because it (Western Conference) was very competitive top to bottom.”
As far as the competition the Raiders baseball team will face, Eddington emphasized the location as a determining factor.
“Muskegon Community College is gonna be good, Mid Michigan is gonna be good, but…I don’t know of anyone who’s going to head North for non-conference games,” he said. “So it’s going to be hard for these new teams to establish themselves and develop a good program because of their location.”
When asked about the effect of the increased travel and time commitment on his players, Eddington said, “If I was traveling, I would prefer to travel South rather than North. It’s going to be all new to us. It is what it is, and we’ll try and make it into a positive.”
Joe Hoeks, a baseball player going into his third season at GRCC said that he didn’t think the increased travel would affect the team’s play. “I think it’ll actually bring us closer together,” he said.
When asked about his initial reaction to hearing about the Northern Conference Hoeks said, “I didn’t think too much about it, honestly. I was more shocked I guess, and curious.”
Men’s Basketball Head Coach Joe Fox said he was disappointed to lose some of the rivalries they’ve had over the years.
“It’s kinda an unknown for us. We’ll have to see once rosters and recruits come in,” he said. “For the most part, I’m excited about the change. (We’ll) play some teams we haven’t played before, so that’ll be fun for the guys.”
Since travel time is one of the biggest adjustments the Raiders will have to make, Fox is making a plan of action.
“We’re going to do our best to mitigate it (travel). If we have to miss a study table, we’ll make it up on the road. I’ve called a few four-year school coaches to ask them about some ideas for how to make up that time,” he said. “I don’t think the basketball side will be a big adjustment, I think the academic side will be the bigger adjustment.”
Since he’s going into his third year at GRCC, men’s basketball player Brockton Kholer said he was excited to play some new teams and see some new faces. “I’m excited no matter who we’re playing, the goal is to win the conference and go to nationals either way,” he said.
Kholer is remaining optimistic about the added travel time, too.
“It’s just about staying organized…I can do homework on the bus,” he said. “There’s definitely some times where we’ll miss class, but other than that, I don’t think it’ll cause any challenges.”
Not every sport is affected by the new conference addition. MCCAA men’s golf will remain in just Eastern and Western Conferences. There are seven teams in the East Conference and five teams in the West Conference, including the GRCC Raiders.
GRCC Men’s Golf Head Coach John Forton said this conference change doesn’t impact the Raiders golf team at all. When asked why he thought no new MCCAA men’s golf teams had formed recently, he brought it back to recruiting.
“It takes a while to recruit golfers, recruitment isn’t easy,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can think of that would deter colleges, other than the expenses. It can be expensive, uniforms, travel, etc.”
The Collegiate reached out to women’s volleyball coach Chip Will, women’s cross country coach Sharon Becker, and men’s cross country coach Garret Lacy for comment but received no response.
For more information about the new MCCAA Northern Conference, contact GRCC’s Athletic Department at 616-234-3990 or email the Athletic Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collegiate News Editor Shane Madden contributed to this story.
Alena Visnovsky is Co Editor-in-Chief for The Collegiate and is also on the GRCC volleyball team. She did not interview or attempt to contact the athletic director, her coach, or teammates for this story.