KCAC football ready for Heart of America challenge

09/14/2013 12:00 AM

09/13/2013 6:35 PM

Much like any argument solely hinging on rankings as the end-all, be-all, many years of debate over supremacy between the KCAC and the Heart of America Athletic Conference has produced no tangible answer.

Despite each conference being stocked full of Kansas and Missouri schools, presenting a natural rivalry, the KCAC and HAAC have rarely been on the same football field in the past.

So hypothetical situations ensue and the arguments go on without any real proof.

Well, now there will be proof.

“It’s always been perceived that the Heart is a stronger conference, and hey, maybe they are,” Friends coach Monty Lewis said. “But now we’ll put it to the test.”

The HAAC will put its sterling reputation, complete with four ranked teams, on the line Saturday, as all 10 of its schools travel to KCAC locations to partake in the first year of this sister conference clash.

The challenge, which has been hashed out between KCAC commissioner Scott Crawford and his HAAC counterpart Larry Lady for the last three seasons, has been accepted for this season and next, when the KCAC schools will return the road trip.

Opponents were determined by last season’s final standings, so the No. 1 plays the other conference’s No. 1 and so on down the list. It has created many appealing match-ups, such as No. 18 Ottawa hosting second-ranked Missouri Valley, No. 17 Tabor playing No. 10 MidAmerica Nazarene, and Friends hosting No. 24 Benedictine.

“To the average outsider, we have everything to gain and the Heart has everything to lose,” Crawford said. “We’ll see about that, though. I think the Heart of America is a premier conference when it comes to football. We want to be as competitive nationally as they are.”

Lady wasn’t as quick to play up there being a clear winner and a clear loser. He pointed out the benefits of locking in a quality non-conference opponent a relatively short bus ride away, which cuts down on travel costs.

“I just don’t think being dominant and proving anything is a big deal,” Lady said. “We should have real good competition, and I think there will be a lot of interesting outcomes to look forward to.”

But to coaches, especially from the KCAC, they view this as a grand opportunity.

Lewis, who will direct Friends against nationally-ranked Benedictine tonight at 6 p.m., sent out an e-mail to every coach in the KCAC wishing their squad good luck. The contest has ensnared a greater sense of pride within each conference.

“You can call it ‘put up or shut up’ time,” Lewis said. “I don’t shy away from that type of thing. You’ve got to have some pride in your conference, so I don’t see anything bad coming out of it.”

By the end of Saturday, an answer will finally emerge to settle the debate — at least for this season.

“There’s been a natural rivalry there for 20 years, but we’ve never been able to do anything as constructive and structured as this,” Lewis said. “I hope it goes on for the next 15 years and doesn’t dissolve in the next couple of years.”

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