The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of control took another big step Friday toward a conference realignment plan for Northeastern Wisconsin.
The plan, approved 6-2, involves 76 schools and would be implemented for the 2015-16 school year. But schools affected by the plan have until Jan. 15 to appeal to the board of control to reject it.
The board of control’s final action will be Jan. 29, when it will either accept or reject the plan. However, no further modifications will be allowed.
The board of control had the opportunity to make changes prior to voting Friday in Stevens Point, but chose not to do so. The final plan was put together by WIAA associate director Deb Hauser.
“You have 80-plus schools involved in it,” said Kiel principal Corey Baumgartner, who represents District 4 on the WIAA board of control. “When you alter it, you don’t have a lot of time to take a look at all the information and where all those ripples go when you start switching around something that large.”
If approved, which is likely to happen, this will be the first large-scale realignment plan for the area since the 2007-08 school year.
One of the contributing factors in the WIAA’s decision to again undertake area conference realignment were requests at WIAA area meetings in 2011 and 2012 by Green Bay East and Green Bay West to be moved from the Fox River Classic Conference to the Bay Conference.
That change was in all three versions of realignment plans that Hauser presented to schools this year and is reflected in the final plan, which features a 10-team FRCC and eight schools in the Bay for all sports, in addition to Waupaca for football.
“We’re happy with the vote,” Green Bay East athletic director Tim Flood said. “It’s not an easy decision, and we understand that not everybody is happy, but for Green Bay East and Green Bay West it’s what we’ve wanted. It’s going to help us compete for all of our levels and that’s the most important thing for our kids.”
Following the presentation of a second realignment plan at the WIAA area meeting Sept. 25 at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Hauser took feedback to form the final version.
The Packerland Conference remains unchanged in the final plan. However, the eight-team conference petitioned the board of control to add schools.
Peshtigo was one of the schools open to moving to the Packerland. Peshtigo is the biggest school in the Marinette & Oconto Conference, and it offers boys soccer and has similar offerings at the freshman and junior varsity levels that the Packerland was looking to add.
But Peshtigo will remain in the M&O, which will add Oneida Nation, previously an independent without conference affiliation.
One of the Packerland’s concerns moving forward is that three of its eight members field 8-player football teams, leaving the conference with five 11-player teams. In order to be eligible for the WIAA football playoffs, teams must play a minimum of five conference games.
“I’m not super surprised that they said we’re going to stick with what we got,” Algoma athletic director Nick Cochart said. “It is what is and we just have to figure out a plan to handle these different scenarios. We have to make it work.”
Since the last realignment in 2007, the Packerland and Olympian have been combined for football. That option wasn’t mandated by the WIAA in the new realignment plan, which split the 10 current Olympian teams into three conferences.
“I know the Packerland has some concerns,” Baumgartner said. “I spoke to those today, but I think there are also still some opportunities to alleviate some things with their football schedule.”
One of the conferences in the realignment plan features four teams from the Olympian combining with the Central Lakeshore to form a 14-team league, with 11 teams playing 11-player football.
While it’s not mandated in the WIAA’s realignment, it still would be possible for the Packerland’s five 11-player teams to combine for football or play crossover games that count toward league standings if both conferences approve it.
“We’re not going to tell them they have to do that, but they can get together and do it,” WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki said.
Another part of the realignment plan includes Denmark, Luxemburg-Casco, Marinette and Oconto Falls moving from the Bay to the Eastern Valley.
Wrightstown, currently the largest school in the Olympian, also will switch to the Eastern Valley.
“We have enjoyed the long and rich history that we have had in the Olympian Conference,” Wrightstown athletic director Todd Chandler said. “That’s something that we’ll miss.
“But we understand that based on our enrollment and trend information over the last number of years, as well as our sports offerings, our competitiveness and the schools we regularly see in tournament play, the Eastern Valley makes sense.”
The time it took to plan and approve the previous conference realignment for the area took 17 months. The latest realignment process will take 10 months by the time the board of control has its meeting Jan. 29.
It’s likely realignment will remain a topic of discussion at future fall area meetings.
“I believe more schools will be asking for realignment consideration as we move forward,” Hauser said. “How often is hard to tell. But as schools change in size and the ability to draw kids out for a sport, it really changes how they feel about their situation in a given conference.”