There has been speculation that the Central Ozark Conference may return to its days of yesteryear when the announcement of football schedules produced excitement and anticipation.
This upcoming season marks the sixth straight season, or third two-year cycle, in which the league's regular-season schedules have been virtually the same.
Once Joplin became the COC's 10th member in 2018, the only thing left for ADs around the league to do in regard to completing their nine-week football schedule has been to decide who plays who and when.
But now comes word that could change as soon as 2024. Discussions have been held about the possibility of opening up one or even two weeks of the season for non-conference play.
Ozark AD Yancey Little's hunch is the schedules will stay status-quo.
Apparently, the subject was broached by administrators from schools with both smaller and larger enrollments, as well as the powers-that-be representing football programs that have dominated and those that have struggled.
From the perspective of the COC's football elite, a non-conference date or two could be deemed attractive to create the possibility of a premier showdown against a power elsewhere.
Webb City previously met the likes of Springdale Har-Ber (Arkansas), St. Thomas Aquinas (Kansas), Rogers (Arkansas) and Rockhurst. When the Cardinals went into Arkansas or hosted Har-Ber or Rogers, the games drew overflow crowds.
Perhaps a high-caliber enough of a game could be set up to attract the cameras of ESPN.
In a couple of years, ESPN would surely love to bring its viewers a contest featuring one of the nation's premier offensive tackles in Nixa's Jackson Cantwell opposite a nationally-ranked defensive end.
With Cantwell having recently added Georgia and Alabama to the list of schools that have extended him an offer, media outlets from metro areas across the country are going to want to know his story. ESPN could put quite a spotlight on Cantwell.
Some of you may recall Nixa's 2014 season-opener against Jefferson City Helias initially attracted ESPNU due to Eagles running back Alec Murphy and Crusaders tight end Hale Hentges. ESPNU later cancelled its broadcast when the game was rescheduled due to high temperatures.
As things stand now within the COC, football is unique in that teams aren't guaranteed a chance to see what football is like in St. Louis, Kansas City or Arkansas. All other COC sports meet up with a metro opponent at some juncture.
A year ago on the gridiron, Ozark, Neosho, Willard and even Webb City all played exclusively against COC teams in regular-season play and Districts.
From the perspective of the COC's annual lower-division members, a respite from conference play would be welcomed to present an opportunity to play a more comparable opponent.
It's been well documented that Webb City, Carthage and Joplin have dominated their COC opponents over the years. Only in the past few years has Nixa broken through and joined those three atop the league and Republic gained what had been an ever-so elusive win against Webb City in Districts last season.
But much more often than not Republic, Ozark, Branson, Willard, Neosho and Carl Junction have been beaten badly year after year by the COC's elite or been involved week after week in non-competitive contests.
Republic won two or three games each fall from 2016-2020.
Win or lose, Carl Junction has had all 18 of its COC games the past two seasons decided by three touchdowns or more.
Ozark had just one game decided by 14 points or less last season.
Willard has knocked off Neosho in Districts each of the past two years, but has a 19-game COC losing streak.
Branson hasn't had a winning season in 13 years.
That's hardly made for compelling Friday nights. Little wonder there have been cries for a change.
Arranging for non-conference games was never an easy chore in the past and certainly wouldn't be in the future. The neighboring Ozark Conference also features 10 teams and a fixed schedule.
Most likely, the COC and OC would have to reach some sort of an agreement to schedule non-conference games against each other.
Such a partnership could extend the rivalries between Nixa, Ozark and Kickapoo from the hardwood and ball diamond to the gridiron. Nixa and Ozark haven't played Kickapoo since they both lost to the Chiefs in the 2013 post-season.
Obviously, a non-conference game or two would mean not every COC opponent would play each other each year. Of course, that's the case in practically every conference in college football.
The COC could split into two divisions to make sure all rivalry games are still played, have three or four crossover games and still have room for a non-conference date or two.
Little suspects the COC isn't nearing any sort of partnership with the OC or a split into two divisions.
"We had lots of discussion on conference mergers/realignments but I believe those talks have subsided for a while," he said.