When asked last month about the possibility of expanding the Eastern South Dakota Conference, current conference president and Aberdeen Central athletic director Gene Brownell said talks would have more weight if West River schools truly showed a desire to join.
Several area schools this week are doing their best to put the ball back in the ESD's court.
Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens are expected to receive permission from the Rapid City Area Schools to submit letters of intent seeking to join the conference at a meeting Thursday.
Sturgis Brown High School activities director Mike Paris said the Meade 46-1 School Board approved the Scoopers' request to send the conference a letter of intent at a meeting on Tuesday.
The three schools are members of the Greater Dakota Conference, which appears to be dissolving after the 2012-13 school year. The Sioux Falls schools are planning to create their own Metro Conference and leave the GDC, which was formed in 1998. The GDC is already losing Spearfish to the Black Hills Conference after the current academic year.
If given approval, the Rapid City schools would send their letters to the conference before its fall scheduling meeting on Wednesday, Central activities director Darren Paulson said.
"We decided the right timing was right now," said Paulson, who had earlier set December or January as his initial target to bring a proposal to the school board. "We're ready to make a run at it ... and we figured we should get the information in front of (the conference) as soon as possible."
The three schools essentially have three options once the GDC dissolves - they can operate as independents, seek out-of-state opponents to fill out a schedule or join another Class AA conference.
Paris has said he has no desire for the Scoopers to go the independent route, and Paulson said that out-of-state scheduling can be a nightmare.
First-year Stevens activities director Jared Vasquez said the decision to make the ESD aware of the schools' intentions will hopefully begin the conference's discussions on the feasibility of expansion.
"Specifically, we just didn't want to have a misstep in terms of how and when we should go forward," he said.
Even if the school board allows Stevens' and Central's plans to go forward, acceptance into the ESD is no guarantee.
For one, the West River schools aren't alone in their interest to join the conference. Harrisburg is hoping to gain admission into the ESD beginning in 2012-13, according to information provided in the school board's meeting agenda.
The ESD has also maintained an eight-school membership for much of its 83-year history, and it has denied previous expansion requests. Sioux Falls O'Gorman, Vermillion and Winner were all denied membership in 1975, according to the ESD's website. Brandon Valley became a full member of the conference in 1992, but only after the departure of Madison in the early 1980s.
The Sioux Falls schools applied for membership in 1994 and were denied, according to the ESD website.
Opinions on expansion vary within in the conference. Brookings athletic director Steve Berseth, who plans to retire after the 2010-11 school year, has said accepting all three West River schools would give him pause.
"Ten is kind of the magic number," he said. "I think it would be difficult to find the votes in the ESD to expand beyond."
He said he believes the conference wants to maintain round-robin scheduling in wrestling and football and a double round-robin in volleyball and basketball. Potential dilemmas in scheduling reinforced the need to submit letters of intent early, Paris said.
"If it were to happen, you're not going to come up with a schedule overnight," he said. "To put something together with the schedule would require us to be somewhat creative."
Others within the ESD are more open to adding new schools. Brownell said he has spoken with Aberdeen's school board about expansion and has found "no red flags."
He gave no promises, but Brownell said now could be the time to create a substantial South Dakota conference with staying power.
"We are definitely interested in the discussions for an expansion of the conference to begin to take place," he said.
First-year Watertown activities director Steve Moore has said the ultimate decision will be one that's best for the student-athletes.
"Whatever happens will be good. The one thing I have learned in this job so far is the ADs in South Dakota are all willing to work together and listen," he said.
Paris echoed that statement Wednesday, saying communication between the Class AA activities directors is both regular and cooperative.
Vasquez said the West River schools will try and prepare themselves for a potential transition, but for now they are left at the mercy of both the conference and the school board. Several ESD activities directors also said that any expansion measure would likely need approval from the school boards of current conference members, as well.
In the interim, there's not much left to be done.
"Right now, it's a waiting game," Vasquez said.