It seemed like a done deal.
Less than a week ago, that seemed to be the general consensus throughout the York County sports community.
The Northern athletic administration and the Y-A League both appeared to favor the Polar Bears' move from the Mid-Penn Conference.
During a couple of open meetings with the Northern community, there didn't appear to be any serious opposition to the shift.
The Northern School Board even agreed to move up the vote on applying for membership to March, instead of April. That was done to accommodate the Y-A League, which wanted to vote on possible expansion in April before Northern's scheduled April board meeting.
All signs pointed to approval.
Then came the Thursday night surprise.
The Northern School board, by a 5-4 vote, decided to stay in the Mid-Penn Conference.
There's no doubt that had to come as a disappointment to most members of the Y-A League.
Y-A League executive director Chuck Abbott made his feelings clear in late January when he said: “My goal is to get a 24th school. It just makes things so much easier, and then, if you look at Northern, it's a perfect fit.”
Abbott is absolutely right. A Y-A League with 24 members is much more manageable than a 23-member league, especially in terms of scheduling. The numbers just work out better in the sports that boast full membership.
Football issue: That's especially true for football, which just happens to be the most high-profile sport at nearly every high school in the county.
Right now, the local league features eight teams in Division I and Division III, and seven teams in Division II. For the D-I and D-III teams, there's no problem. Each of those teams play three non-league games to start the season, followed by seven division games.
In D-II, however, after the three non-league games, there are just six division games, meaning each D-II team must come up with another non-league contest during their divisional bye week in the final seven weeks of the season.
That's much easier said than done. Most other teams in the region don't have open dates during the final seven weeks of the season because they're fully involved in league competition, meaning the D-II teams often must search far and wide to find opponents.
Northern, if had joined the Y-A League, would have solved that problem.
Near-perfect match: The Polar Bears also would've been a near-perfect D-II match in most sports, in terms of proximity, size and competitive quality.
Yes, the D-II teams in the southern end of the county might not have been thrilled about the long drives to Dillsburg. That was likely especially true for Kennard-Dale, which is nearly 60 miles from Northern.
Travel was one big reason that Northern athletic director Gerry Schwille seemed supportive of the move. In the Mid-Penn, the Polar Bears annually face multiple drives of more than 60 miles.
In addition, some folks at Northern had grown tired of shifting divisions within the Mid-Penn — moves that were often made while ignoring input from the Polar Bear community.
That likely wouldn't have been a problem in the Y-A League. Northern would've likely become entrenched in D-II, allowing for the creation of real rivalry games with nearby programs.
Reasons for staying put: Still, when push came to shove, the Northern School Board narrowly voted to stay put.
Well, that's hard to pin down exactly, but here are a few possibilities.
► Northern is a charter member of the Mid-Penn, joining the conference in the early 1980s. It's possible that more than three decades of tradition overcame the perceived problems that some had with the conference. It's always easier to do nothing than to embrace change.
► In addition, there's no doubt that the Mid-Penn Conference carries a much higher profile throughout the state than the Y-A League. Mid-Penn teams generally perform better on the PIAA stage than do Y-A League teams. That's especially true in big-school football, which is the sport that generates the most publicity across the state. Some folks in Northern might believe their athletes will receive more exposure in the Mid-Penn.
► Maybe the folks in the Dillsburg area just feel more comfortable playing in a “Harrisburg league,” rather than a “York league.”
No such thing as a done deal: No matter the reasons, the choice has been made. The Polar Bears aren't moving, and as far as Northern superintendent Eric Eshbach is concerned, that decision won't change anytime soon.
“I'm done looking at switching leagues,” he said after the vote.
That's bad news for the Y-A League, which will continue its long search for a much-coveted 24th member. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be another area school that would fill that spot nearly as well as Northern.
The lesson here?
There's no such thing as a done deal until the final votes are cast.
Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.