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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.”