MOUNT PLEASANT — No, it's not conference realignment, but it's the next closest thing for a group of six high school basketball programs from around the country, including Mount Pleasant's own Wasatch Academy.
The Tigers, who are considered a powerhouse basketball program around the country and consistently ranked in the top 25 each season, will join a league called the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. The newly-formed league will open up play in the 2021-22 season.
Wasatch Academy, which finished the 2020-21 season ranked No. 12 with an 18-7 record, will join No. 1 ranked and recent national champions Montverde Academy (Florida), Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), IMG Academy (Florida), La Lumiere School (Indiana) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas), according to a report from ESPN Monday morning that was later confirmed by Wasatch Academy.
Two other programs that have yet to be named will be added to the league, as well, with the hope for more as the league grows.
Ty Kennedy, who serves as the director of basketball at Wasatch Academy, said the league will always have the "core six" teams and will look to grow from there.
"The remaining schools — however large we get; we may stay at eight, we may move to 12 — those will be more at-large bids," Kennedy said. "There will always be the core six schools, and then the other schools will be based on, basically, performance, who they have in their programs — you know, trying to project how long they can sustain maybe a top-25 ranking."
The NIBC will play a 10-game regular season, according to ESPN, and a postseason tournament. Kennedy said the hope is to have at least 12 games in conference play, with additional games added like in the collegiate world as nonconference opponents. The league will also have a commissioner: Rashid Ghazi, who is a partner at Paragon Marketing Group.
Ghazi told ESPN that the league was started to help the member schools "manage the events, secure sponsorship revenue and place the games on the ESPN networks." Talks about creating the league began during the COVID-19 pandemic to help the schools find "competitive games," and an NIBC Invitational was created in January to gauge interest in a potential future league.
"During the course of the season, the schools realized the power of building their brands together, and we worked with them over the past several months to put a formal conference together," Ghazi told ESPN. "We believe the tradition and history of the six schools combined with the expertise of Paragon creates a winning formula that will make the NIBC truly unique in the world of high school sports."
Kennedy said the conversations initially started in August as programs looked to put together schedules amid an uncertain time where "everyone was kind of scrambling trying to figure out what schedules were going to look like." Through conversations with other powerhouse programs and with a member of Nike Elite, it was decided a league of this sort would "elevate the game of high school basketball" and allow for schools to "be our own individual brands," Kennedy said of the conversations.
"It made a lot of sense," Kennedy added. "In a lot of ways, we still feel like we're kind of the new kids on the block, so we're just happy to be invited, happy to be a part of it in the conversations."
The NIBC games will all be featured on ESPN networks for the upcoming season. Kennedy said the plan is for all games, including nonconference games, for the member schools in 2022-23 to be shown on the various ESPN networks. Most games will likely be showcased on ESPN3, with other more high-profile games likely being slated to ESPN2 or ESPNU, though that will be decided later.
Regardless of what ESPN channel the games appear on, having a broadcasting partner like ESPN will help raise the profile of each member school and the schools they play. Kennedy joked that few, even in Utah, know about Wasatch Academy despite it being one of the oldest schools in Utah. With this league, he hopes more will see the school and what it's about.
"Our hope is that it just helps us elevate our platform — people take interest not just in basketball, but in school in general," Kennedy said.
"If we can provide that for even other Utah schools, I think it's so cool. ... My primary goal is to promote Wasatch Academy and elevate that platform, but I want to do it across the board for the state as much as we can."