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Commentary: Could COC be looking at the departures of Branson and Carl Junction?


We’re simply speculating, wink, wink, on what’s next for SWMO conferences by surmising more shakeups are on the way.

The announcement last month Reeds Spring, Hollister and Springfield Catholic are leaving the Big Eight in favor of the Mid-Lakes may be just the beginning of conference reshuffling.

Perhaps we could be in store of the creation of a new conference altogether.

The COC is deserving of its distinction as the premier conference in SWMO, but like the Big Eight, may have defectors within its ranks. There’s been plenty enough banter regarding the COC becoming more and more top-heavy to theorize perennial second-division finishers are searching for a better place.

Taking into account repeated lopsided losses, above all else on the gridiron, but also on the hardwood, ball diamond, etc., the COC could be seeing its first change of any kind since the addition of Joplin in the 2018-2019 school year.

This time, though, the COC equation could include subtractions.

Taking a look into the all-telling crystal ball, we may soon be hearing of the departures from the COC of, drumroll please, … long-time league member Branson, along with short-timer Carl Junction.

Branson has been part of the COC long enough to have had bygone Buffalo as a conference colleague. Yes youngsters, Buffalo was once in the COC. Believe it or not, considering their lack of cooperation and communication even as neighbors, Branson and Reeds Spring also previously competed under the same conference banner.

Carl Junction joined the COC in the 2016-2017 school year at the same time Webb City and Carthage also were welcomed aboard. With an enrollment of 735, Carl Junction is the COC’s smallest school by 276 students. The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs draw from a pool of students that is half the size of COC kingpins Joplin and Nixa.

It’s not as if Branson and Carl Junction haven’t had any sort of impact within the COC. 

Branson captured a COC boys basketball championship as recently as 2013 and annually has been a title contender in boys tennis. Most telling, though, the Pirates haven't had a winning football season in 13 years. Also, their boys baketball team was winless in the COC last season.

Carl Junction’s girls basketball program has been among the COC’s elite. The Lady Bulldogs breezed through conference play undefeated on their way to a COC championship last winter. However, the Bulldogs' football team is 1-6 this year and on its way to a fifth losing season in six years. Also, their boys basketball program has lost 18 of its last 19 COC contests. Their lone win in that stretch came at the expense of, you guessed it, Branson.

Last school year, Branson and Carl Junction finished 9-10 in the COC Boys All-Sports Standings, while Carl Junction was fourth and Branson ninth in the COC Girls All-Sports Standings.

Branson and Carl Junction certainly would be considered strange bedfellows, given they are a two-hour drive apart. In fact, no two COC schools are further apart from each other.

But we’re still foreseeing a partnership between the two.

Of course, if Branson and Carl Junction do leave the COC, they will need to seek out more allies. We’re saying they are going to find such suitors.

What if, by chance, Big Eight members Rogersville and Marshfield and Ozark Conference members Bolivar and West Plains also unite with Branson and Carl Junction? Perhaps COC members Neosho and Willard could join the fold, but not just yet.

Call it the Castaways Conference.

The six schools' numbers are mostly similar. Branson, with an enrollment of 1,050, is bigger than everyone else by nearly 200 students. But the Pirates' dramatic growth from the 1990s-2000s, for whatever reason, has screeched to a surprising stall in recent years. West Plains has 866 students, Marshfield 680, Bolivar 615 and Rogersville 547.

It’s hard to ignore West Plains and Carl Junction are 180 miles from each other. Carl Junction’s bus rides anywhere will be at least an hour one-way, same for West Plains.

This suggested partnership is not perfect, but could be sold as better than the present scenarios the schools find themselves in. We all know there are enough timeshare salesmen in Branson to pitch this proposal and make it sound like a dream.

What could all this conjecture, if it should become reality, ultimately mean to our very own Ozark and Nixa? 

The most notable change would be in football. If the COC and OC both bid adieu to two schools, that obviously would leave two open dates for football for both conferences’ members. 

It would mostly make sense for the COC and OC to work together to fill those openings with non-conference games against each other. But please don't give us, for instance, Parkview-Nixa or Hillcrest-Webb City matchups.

A COC-OC collaberation would likely lead to Ozark and Nixa extending the rivalry they share with Kickapoo to the gridiron.

Ozark and Kickapoo are actually on track to face each other in a Class 6 District 5 first-round game this season. But both the Tigers and Eagles haven’t played the Chiefs since 2013.

Also, it will would be awfully compelling for Nixa and Lebanon,  both sporting 7-0 records seemingly every year, to face off. 

As always, stay tuned sports fans.