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It's been speculated about for years, maybe even decades.

Now the speculation has transitioned into real possibility.

Northern York, at last, may become the 24th member of the York-Adams League.

However, this is not a done deal, by any means.

The Northern York School Board will listen to public comment during its meetings over the coming months and then come to a final decision.

You can expect that comment period to include some vigorous, maybe even heated, discussion.

From the York-Adams League perspective, there will likely be little debate. Northern York, should it choose to apply, would almost certainly be welcomed with open arms.

Good fit: The Polar Bears' athletic program appears to be an ideal fit for the Y-A League in nearly every way imaginable.

The Northern program, in terms of competitive success, is very similar to many York-Adams programs.

The Polar Bears would also give the league 24 programs, which would make scheduling much easier in a number of sports, especially the two most high-profile sports — football and basketball.

In both of those sports, the league could be divided into three eight-team divisions, eliminating the necessity for divisional bye weeks, which can create scheduling nightmares.

That's especially true for the seven Y-A Division II football teams, which have to scramble for non-league foes in the fourth through 10th weeks of the regular season. Those non-league foes are extremely difficult to find because most teams are already booked with league opponents during that time period.

Northern, as a Class 4-A football school, would be a tailor-made fit to fill that eighth spot in D-II, which is comprised of mostly 4-A programs.

Goal is 24th member: York-Adams executive director Chuck Abbott has not hidden his desire to attract one more league member, especially if that member is Northern.

“My goal is to get a 24th school,” he said Monday. “It just makes things so much easier, and then, if you look at Northern, it's a perfect fit.”

Abbott went on to say that the Polar Bears would “bring credibility and … a respect for other programs.” He also referred to the Northern folks as a “first-class group of individuals.”

Given those statements, it becomes pretty clear that the Y-A League would like to add Northern as a member.

Built-in rivals, less travel: In addition, Northern would likely face a number of nearby D-II schools which could immediately serve as real rivals, such as Dover, Gettysburg, West York and even York Suburban, which are all less than 25 miles from Dillsburg.

In fact, Northern athletic director Gerry Schwille mentioned travel as one big reason why the Polar Bears may leave the Mid-Penn Conference Colonial Division for the Y-A League. The Polar Bears would lose numerous camping trips to Franklin County schools such as James Buchanan, Waynesboro and Greencastle-Antrim, along with occasional long-distance journeys to State College and Mifflin County.

Schwille said Northern would be “way ahead of the game in terms of travel and class time (missed)” in the Y-A League.

So this move is a no-brainer for both sides, right?

Not quite.

Mid-Penn tradition, success: Northern is a founding member of the Mid-Penn Conference, which was formed in the early 1980s.

Many Polar Bears' fans, players and coaches consider themselves a Harrisburg-area school, not a York-area school.

Some of those folks will likely be reluctant to abandon that kind of tradition.

Additionally, there's little doubt that the 30-member Mid-Penn Conference boasts a higher-profile than the Y-A League across District 3 and the state.

Generally, when it comes to district and PIAA competition, the Mid-Penn schools are more successful than Y-A schools. There's not really any debate about that.

Some Northern fans will almost certainly claim that their teams and athletes will get better competition and garner more exposure by remaining in the Mid-Penn.

The Gettysburg precedent: That same argument was made by some Gettysburg fans a few years back when that school was considering leaving the Mid-Penn for the Y-A League.

Ultimately, the Warriors opted to make the move and have been a Y-A member for the last three years.

For the most part, that move seems to have worked quite well for both Gettysburg and the Y-A League.

The same would probably be true for Northern.

Final piece in expansion puzzle: If the Y-A League can add Northern, it would likely be the final piece in an expansion puzzle that has been in the works since the early 1990s, when the one-time York County-only league first started growing by adding Adams County schools Delone Catholic, Littlestown and New Oxford. About a decade later, three more Adams programs — Biglerville, Bermudian Springs and Fairfield — came on board. After about another decade, yet one more Adams school — Gettysburg — joined the fold.

If Northern makes the switch, the league would seemingly have the perfect mix of 24, like-minded programs. With the exception of Red Land, every public school in York and Adams counties would be Y-A League members.

It's highly unlikely that Red Land, which belongs to the West Shore School District along with Cedar Cliff, would ever seriously consider leaving the Mid-Penn. Cedar Cliff, as a Cumberland County school, is completely oriented toward Harrisburg, as is Red Land. If they changed leagues, it would almost certainly be as a package deal, but they appear satisfied where they are.

Stay tuned: So Northern appears to be the Y-A League's last, best chance to add a much-coveted 24th member.

Will it happen?

Most indications right now point to yes. The Northern administration seems in favor of it.

It would not be surprising, however, if the robust public discussion that is sure to come swayed enough minds on the Northern school board to keep the Polar Bears right where they are.

It should be a fascinating story to follow.

Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.

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