Could two divisions bring Princeton back to M-8?

Could the Princeton Tigers be returning to the Mississippi 8 Conference? Cambridge-Isanti Athletic Director Mark Solberg sure hopes so.

“They are very desirable,” Solberg said of the Tigers’ athletic programs.

Princeton Superintendent Rick Lahn expects to receive from Mississippi 8 superintendents this week a formal invitation to rejoin the conference. Princeton just left the M8 and joined the upstart Granite Ridge Conference for the 2011-12 school year.

“Have we started the discussion? Yes,” Lahn said. “Have we made a decision? No.”

Chisago Lakes, North Branch and St. Francis are also expected to receive invitations, Solberg said. They will be invited to join a two-division conference beginning with the 2013-14 school year, he said.

One alignment being tossed around, according to Solberg, is Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Princeton, St. Francis and Cambridge-Isanti in an eastern division. The closely-grouped schools of Big Lake, Buffalo, Monticello, Rogers and St. Michael-Albertville would be in the west (Becker will leave the M-8 for the Granite Ridge in 2012-13).

It’s a division alignment similar to one Princeton sought prior to leaving the Mississippi 8 for the Granite Ridge Conference, which began play this school year. It’s also an alignment that would have kept Princeton from leaving the Mississippi 8, Lahn said.

Princeton received a call from M8 officials six to eight weeks ago asking if the school district would be interested in joining a district with two divisions consisting of five large schools and five small schools, Lahn said.

Princeton said it would be willing to listen to proposals. Since then, Activities Director Darin Laabs has attended an informational meeting with M8 officials and Lahn has had one phone conversation regarding the subject, he said.

“I suspect we’ll get an invite and then we’ll explore all options and do what’s best for the school district,” Lahn said.

A good option

The two-conference format is one Laabs proposed prior to Princeton leaving the M8 for the Granite Ridge.

But a two-division proposal wasn’t right for the Mississippi 8 in 2008 and a change wasn’t made.

Princeton had good relationships with the M8 schools, but night in and night out the Tigers were coming out on the bottom from a competitive standpoint, Laabs said. Zimmerman found itself in the same situation.

“St. Michael, Big Lake, Monticello — we didn’t look like them anymore,” Laabs said.

If Princeton were to make a jump to the M8, it might be because of necessity. Right now, the M8 has taken in Princeton for sports the Granite Ridge doesn’t offer, like boys swimming and girls hockey.

“If we say no to the M8 and they expand to 10 schools, they might not have room for us,” Lahn said of the sports currently playing in the Mississippi 8.

“If that happened, we would have to travel all around the state to get games in for some of our sports,” Lahn said. “That’s a huge concern.”

When all is said and done, it might be a good option for Princeton to rejoin the Mississippi 8, he said.

Some might say Princeton is being fickle by exploring a move from the Granite Ridge at a time when the first year of conference play is yet to be completed.

“But it’s important to note that the two-division option was not on the table when we left for the Granite Ridge,” Lahn said. “Now it is on the table, so it would be foolish not to take a look at it.”

It’s also important to note that an invitation to join the Mississippi 8 doesn’t mean the district makes the move.

“We need to first talk to the coaches and see what their feelings are. We then need to talk to the parents and, finally, the school board,” Lahn said. “If we can cut travel miles and be placed with competitive, like-sized schools that look like us, it might be good for us.”

Lahn said Princeton also wouldn’t make a move to hurt the Granite Ridge Conference.

“When we joined the Granite Ridge, there were eight schools. Now there are nine. If we leave, they would be back to eight, which would make scheduling easier,” Lahn said.

Solberg said his school values its rivalry with Princeton.

“The official stance of the Bluejackets is that we want to be aligned with the Tigers,” he said.

Princeton is a high-quality place that Solberg says he has respected his entire 31 years at Cambridge-Isanti.

“We’re neighbors, and we want to play against our neighbors,” Solberg said.

By Jeff Hage, Princeton Union-Eagle