When high school administrators gather for the WIAA annual meeting in Stevens Point today, there will be two significant points of discussion.
The first is a petition that would establish a 1.65 enrollment multiplier for private, religious and independent schools for WIAA tournaments, while the second would remove the authority for conference realignment from the WIAA Board of Control and allow member schools to be responsible for their own conference affiliations.
Of the 505 member schools, 385 already were registered to attend the meeting by Monday afternoon. School administrators can show up the day of the meeting to register, which means there’s a chance the number will grow. The average attendance for a meeting is between 320 to 360 schools, including 344 last year.
A simple majority is all it takes for an amendment to pass.
“I think it’s one of the more significant constitutional changes the WIAA has looked at in a long time,” Bay Port athletic director Otis Chambers said. “I think when you look at legislation for concussions and things like that, that was big legislation, but it wasn’t controversial.
“This is emotional legislation. It will probably be voted on emotionally.”
The petition to amend the WIAA constitution by applying a multiplier was brought up by the Six Rivers Conference, which needed and received signatures from at least 10 percent of member schools in order to add it to the agenda.
The Board of Control did not have the information in hand to be able discuss it at its meeting last month, so it met April 3 and sent a letter to schools afterward to inform them of its viewpoints.
“Through our studies, it became evident that Wisconsin is not alone in its review of a multiplier,” wrote Dean Sanders, president of the WIAA Board of Control. “Most state associations have had similar discussions, and those that have implemented measures to address concerns have not revealed a universally satisfactory success formula.”
The 1.65 multiplier came from the model used by Illinois.
As an example, Green Bay Notre Dame, which has an enrollment of 759, would have an adjusted enrollment of 1,252 under the proposal. That would place the school, currently in Division 2 in boys and girls basketball, in Division 1 in both sports.
There is a chance the vote will be tabled until next year’s annual meeting in order to give schools more time to review facts and discuss concerns. If it gets voted on and passes, the multiplier is supposed to go into effect immediately, although the WIAA will ask to delay it until the start of the 2014-15 season.
It’s all but a guarantee several lawsuits will be filed with hopes of overturning the decision if it should pass.
“It’s a very complex issue, a lot of parts to it,” Chambers said. “I really think everybody needs to do their homework and understand the complexity of the issue. This is not just a petition to have private school enrollment multiplied by 1.65. It’s far more reaching than that. It’s going to involve open enrollment. … it’s going to involve a lot of things.
“People really need to know what they are voting on when they vote.”
Bob Pauly has worked at Catholic schools for the past 28 years, including the past four as president of Notre Dame. He wrote a letter in preparation for the meeting, acknowledging that some might have the belief that there is too much winning from private schools and not enough from public ones. He realizes it might be viewed as a time to level the playing field in some people’s eyes, although he would like to see the proposal tabled until more discussions can be held.
“All will not be well in your world of athletics,” Pauly wrote. “Some schools, who are currently suffering, will suffer even more. The small private high schools, which can barely keep their noses above water and compete as it is, will drown, and some will close. And every public school will walk away from these meetings knowing that there is a strong segment that will leave resentful, believing that they were dealt an unfair hand, without due process and proper discourse. They will begin talks of lawsuits and litigation and government intervention, and bad blood will flow throughout the state that all of us will have contributed to. I do not believe any of us really want that.”
The conference realignment vote, meanwhile, probably won’t be nearly as contentious. The chances of it getting passed, which would return the power to the membership and local control, does not seem likely to some.
“I really feel individual conference membership is not the way to go,” Chambers said. “Conference realignment is going to happen every five or six years, and people are just going to have to understand it’s the WIAA’s job. The recommendations from the WIAA are going to be your conference affiliations.”