STEVENS POINT – Urban vs. rural.
Fair or unfair.
Private schools, and their perceived recruiting tactics, against public schools and their open enrollment.
Those issues were front and center for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association membership at its annual meeting at the Holiday Inn on Wednesday in votes on a number of proposed amendments to the organization’s constitution, bylaws and rules of eligibility.
Voices on both sides of the issue were heard. The conversation became heated at times as WIAA membership schools tried to find a solution.
When representatives from the 434 member schools present voted, there was no resolution to the perceived competitive inequity debate that has been causing a widening divide among private and public schools around the state.
“No,” said WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson when asked if he was surprised by the inability to reach a consensus on a competitive equity amendment. “Between knowing the membership and observing them for 18 years when there have been big changes, I’m not surprised.
“We don’t try to read anything into votes,” Anderson said. “Now that we’ve voted, we’re not naive to think it’s all going to go away. Maybe there is something else out there (for a solution) and we don’t know what it is.”
Until someone or some group does, the status quo will remain.
The plan entering the annual meeting was to vote on a “success-based” amendment recommended by the WIAA Ad-Hoc Competitive Equity Committee.
The proposal included a point system based on how far any high school advanced in the WIAA tournament series in the sports of soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball over a three-year period.
Points would be assigned to every team reaching at least the state quarterfinals to determine division placements for respective schools in tournaments. Teams achieving six or more points in a sport over that span will be bumped up a division.
“(The member schools) wanted to vote on the multiplier,” WIAA Deputy Director Wade Labecki said. “We knew the multiplier was going to come back. They wanted an up or down vote and they got that.”
Before the original amendment was proposed, an unidentified member wasted no time stepping to the microphone and offered an alternative amendment of the 1.65 multiplier private, religious and independent schools discussed a year earlier.
Representative from public schools, primarily in rural school districts, continued to voice serious concerns about perceived unfair advantages smaller schools located in larger urban markets have competitively due to having access to more athletes.
The belief among that segment of the membership is the 1.65 multiplier would help ensure a more even playing field for smaller rural athletic programs by bumping up enrollment numbers for those private and independent institutions more in line with their competitive standing.
In a secret ballot vote by the membership, the multiplier amendment proposal was approved by a 231-202 majority to bypass the success factor option suggested by the Ad-Hoc committee altogether and replace it with the 1.65 multiplier proposed last year. .
The debate then focused entirely on the multiplier amendment and pending vote, with both sides of the issue expressed their concerns or support for the amendment.
Crivitz Superintendent Patrick Mans, a member of the Ad-Hoc Competitive Committee that studied the issue over the past year and recommended a success-based solution, stated his case against the multiplier.
“This amendment is like taking a sledgehammer to something that requires a scalpel, this is a very complicated issue,” Mann said.
Others voiced concerns about the rift such a multiplier amendment would create between public and private schools in the WIAA. Sauk Prairie Principal Chad Harnisch proposed the creation of a legal defense fund for the public schools in case of lawsuits.
Green Bay Notre Dame Academy President Robert Pauly then took the floor, grabbed the microphone from the stand and made an impassioned plea about making student-athletes the priority instead of personal, school or conference agendas and spite.
“This would be a grave injustice and we need to stop this right now,” said Pauly, who then made a motion to amend the multiplier from 1.65 to 1.25.
By a 297 to 134 vote, the membership shot down his motion to reduce the multiplier by .40. Ultimately, the majority of WIAA member schools on hand agreed with Pauly’s assessment of the multiplier option overall, and rejected the amendment by a 293 to 141 vote.
No one seems quite sure what the right, or most plausible, answer might be.
“I think what really came out of the vote is competitive equity is a very complicated issue,” said Todd Kuckkahn, president of Stevens Point Area Catholic Schools. “You look at a lot of avenues and directions and it makes it even more difficult to find a solution.
“The committee established that has been studying the whole issue came up with an answer and it was shot down,” Kuckkahn said. “I really don’t know if there is a best solution either. It’s such a complicated subject, maybe the status quo is best.”
Should someone or a group within the WIAA want to readdress the issue, the whole process would likely begin again. Meetings would be held again in areas around the state in the fall.
“Our responsibility as the executive committee is to serve the membership, and that means we’ve got to keep looking (for a solution),” Anderson said. “Right now, we need to give this some time and absorb the conversation we had today.”
Scott A. Williams can be reached at 715-345-2282. Find him on Twitter as @SPJScottWill