|Checking the Scoreboard:
Inspite of everything, the first achievement of league membership is a degree of parity. In the first eight years of the NCO every school won at least one football and basketball championship except Delaware and the newcomer Shelby, who did win one football cup. Mansfield had eight championships, Galion five, Bucyrus four, Ashland three, and Marion three.
A second goal was to finance their sports programs through gate receipts. Football games were a Saturday afternoon event, and the league basketball schedule was every Friday night in January and February and some years into March. By the middle of the decade crowds of 4,000 fans were common at the big games like Mansfield vs Shelby and Mansfield vs Ashland. The first Ashland at Mansfield basketball game in their new gym (1927, today it is called Pete Henry gym) was packed with 2,000 spectators of which 400 had standing room only tickets. Ashland's new gym-auditorium seated 1,400 fans. If your visiting opponent in football was Mansfield, they could bring 1,000 followers at 75 cents a head. Also, as the autos and roads improved, the crowd swelled, too.
Furthermore, while the Twenties have become known as the "Golden Age of Sports," the local newspapers added a separate Sports Page. In the Ashland Times-Gazette on Monday or Tuesday you could read the league results from the past weekend and by Thursday or Friday an account of the upcoming opponent was in the paper. The Marion Star, Mansfield News, Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum, and the Ashland Times-Gazette began selecting a post-season NCO all-star team in football and basketball.
However, Delaware, the school on the southern border of the league, had won only 25-percent of their football games and just over one in three basketball games. At the Galion March 19, 1927 league meeting their Principal, F.A. Gephart, announced that they were withdrawing from the league. He explained that the Delaware athletic department did not take in as much in a season as some NCO schools did in a single, big rivalry game. At times they had to compete with Ohio Wesleyan, when the college had a home game on Saturdays. The NCO refused to play them on Friday afternoons. He also found a lack of spirit over playing the distant NCO teams. Consequently, they joined the Central Buckeye League with neighboring schools in the northern suburbs of Columbus.
At the next NCO meeting (Dec. 1927) the league considered inviting Wooster or Tiffin as possible new members, but Marion was 70 miles from Wooster and Ashland was 60 miles from Tiffin. However, many were happy with the five team arrangement because it meant a home and home basketball schedule. For the first eight years each school played four at home and three away, then visa-versa the next year. Some grumbled that if you had to play Mansfield, Ashland, and Bucyrus at their home court; they had the advantage to win the league championship. Mansfield's Russ Murphy was quoted as saying, "Ashland could beat any team in the United States, if the game was played at Ashland."
Meanwhile, the league blossomed as the rivalries
grew. Bucyrus, Marion, and Mansfield had been playing each other since
1897. The first Galion vs Bucyrus Thanksgiving Day game was played in
1898. Mansfield first played an Ashland team in 1900. By the late 20's
the league was willing to accommodate the traditional Thanksgiving Day
games of Ashland vs Mansfield and Bucyrus vs Shelby. Ashland's longtime
coach Harry Barnhart, who was known for his Knute Rockne like approach,
told his players that "this is the game we have practice for since
the first day."