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Thirteen schools from Ken­tucky, Michigan, Ohio, Ten­nessee, and West Vir­ginia will make up the Great Midwest Ath­letic Con­ference for the 2017 – 2018 season. (Photo: Wiki­media Commons)

Two years after announcing its inten­tions to change ath­letic con­fer­ences, a new era in Hillsdale ath­letics is about to begin.

All 14 of Hillsdale’s varsity sports will move to the Great Midwest Ath­letic Con­ference this year, after more than 40 years in the Great Lakes Inter­col­le­giate Ath­letic Con­ference.

Hillsdale College Ath­letic Director Don Brubacher said the move, which the College announced in June 2015, falls in line with the overall blue­print for Hillsdale College.

“The strategic plan for Hillsdale College states we will strive to asso­ciate with like-minded schools in our ath­letic affil­i­a­tions,” Brubacher said. “The member schools in the G-MAC help us accom­plish that goal.”

Brubacher also expressed grat­itude to the GLIAC for more than 40 years of asso­ci­ation.

Eight col­leges and uni­ver­sities pre­vi­ously com­prised the G-MAC, which began com­pe­tition in the 2012 – 2013 season. These schools included Alderson-Broaddus Uni­versity, Cedarville Uni­versity, Davis & Elkins College, Ken­tucky Wes­leyan College, Malone Uni­versity, Ohio Valley Uni­versity, Trevecca Nazarene Uni­versity, and Ursuline College.

Four other former GLIAC insti­tu­tions joined the G-MAC fully alongside Hillsdale in July: Lake Erie College, Ohio Dominican Uni­versity, Uni­versity of Findlay, and Walsh Uni­versity. Former GLIAC member Tiffin Uni­versity has also com­mitted to join the G-MAC in 2018.

Although Hillsdale is leaving a renowned con­ference in favor of a younger one, Brubacher said the com­pet­itive aim of Hillsdale’s ath­letics remains the same.

“Our goal with all of our teams is to compete at a national level,” he said. “That was the case, is the case, and will always be the case.”

Brubacher acknowl­edged there are those who have the per­ception Hillsdale is moving con­fer­ences to find a lower com­pet­itive level, but he was adamant in dis­missing the idea.

On this front, Head Vol­leyball Coach Chris Gravel noted that while Hillsdale may be leaving the GLIAC, it’s obvi­ously not leaving the region. Each program will, therefore, con­tinue to play many of the teams they com­peted against in the GLIAC, just in non-con­ference tilts. This will allow Hillsdale to con­tinue his­toric on-field rivalries, rekindle old ones, and also foster new rivalries in the G-MAC, according to Head Football Coach Keith Otterbein and Head Men’s Bas­ketball Coach John Tharp.

“It’s dif­ferent, and there will be some changes, but we already have some great rivalries as we move forward,” Otterbein said. “As we move on to the con­ference games, we have had some great games against Ohio Dominican, and Lake Erie, and Findlay, so those will con­tinue to develop … and there’s some really good-looking football players in this new con­ference.”

Tharp men­tioned the excitement of squaring off against several “very good” men’s bas­ketball pro­grams in the G-MAC, including Ken­tucky Wes­leyan, which has appeared in 19 NCAA Division II Final Fours, resulting in eight national titles.

Brubacher said G-MAC offi­cials approached Hillsdale about two and a half years ago. Hillsdale’s imme­diate response was that the college could not engage in dis­cus­sions about the pos­si­bility of a change in con­ference mem­bership until it notified the GLIAC that Hillsdale was con­sid­ering the change, but even­tually, Hillsdale’s admin­is­tration did.

After about two months of com­mu­ni­cation and con­sid­er­ation, Hillsdale made the decision to change con­fer­ences.

A move of this mag­nitude does come with some logis­tical dif­fi­culties. Pri­marily, according to Brubacher, a new con­ference means new schedules for con­ference com­pe­tition, as well as new options for non-con­ference matchups.

“We have been working a lot with the Great Midwest Ath­letic Con­ference over the last two years to plan for ath­letic schedules, including con­ference schedules, in all sports beginning this year,” Brubacher said. “At the same time we had to under­stand the GLIAC, even though we had con­tinuing mem­bership there for those two years, had to look beyond that time­frame in devel­oping schedules, as well.”

Other chal­lenges include not knowing every single opposing coach Hillsdale will square off against. Tharp men­tioned the need to learn the various schemes of the new con­ference foes. Gravel echoed this sen­timent and added that he will have to use Mapquest to find the best restau­rants on road trips.

Addi­tionally, overall travel schedules will change for each Hillsdale program. Tharp expressed relief over not having to worry about getting stuck in the Upper Peninsula. These long U.P. trips, however, are exchanged for long drives in the opposite direction as far as Ten­nessee. At least it is toward more agreeable weather, Tharp added.

The decision to leave the GLIAC after more than 40 years was not taken lightly, but it’s one Brubacher said he believes will benefit the college both imme­di­ately and in the years to come.

“I think the G-MAC already is a won­derful con­ference asso­ci­ation for us and will grow into an even more out­standing asso­ci­ation for us in the future,” he said. “We feel very good about the con­ference lead­ership, and we feel really blessed to be in this position.”