High School Conference Realignment — Another Way?
High school football season begins in two weeks, a rite of fall that is loved throughout the state of Wisconsin. Over the past year, the controversy involving the possible restructuring of the high school football season dominated the headlines. In 2010-11, the headlines may again be dominated by off-the-field issues – this time due to the merging of the high profile Fox Valley and Wisconsin Valley Conferences for football.
In Wisconsin, the WIAA proposes and approves conference membership, as well as the realignment of Wisconsin high school conferences when needed. Maintaining competitive balance, based primarily upon the enrollments of the schools in a geographic region, is a difficult task that often leaves some of the parties unhappy. Typically, a conference realignment proposal is developed, the schools are contacted and asked for their input, a series of meetings and hearings relating to the realignment take place, and ultimately the WIAA decides whether or not to make the conference realignment change as originally proposed, modify the proposal, or abandon the idea.
Lately, there has been growing resentment toward the WIAA and their realignment proposals. Critics have argued that historical rivalries are often lost, travel considerations are sometimes ignored, and the number of teams placed in conferences are often not ideal for scheduling purposes. On the flip side, the WIAA is faced with trying to work with numerous school boards and administrative groups whose primary role is to serve their local constituents, while at the same time find homes for schools with few comparables in their geographic area (i.e Williams Bay, Medford, and Superior). These issues, coupled with the continued tension between public and private schools, makes for a thankless job for the WIAA leadership.
Is there a solution to these problems? Perhaps.
What if the schools themselves could seek new conference affiliations and configurations on their own without WIAA direction? Schools unhappy with their current conference arrangement could simply seek membership in another conference, or work as the facilitator in the development of a new conference. Conferences like the Wisconsin Valley and Fox Valley, with significant disparities in enrollment between some schools, could look to add a combination of schools (similar to the Big Ten’s efforts to expand at the college level) and create two divisions. Difficult to place schools, such as Williams Bay or Medford, could work on their own to find a conference that would welcome them. What would be the primary role for the WIAA? Set the rules for eligibility and governance of individual student-athletes, sports and schools , run the state tournament series, and serve as the arbitrator in issues of conflict between schools or between student-athletes and schools.
Who best understands the rivalries in a geographic area? The schools themselves. Who best understands the financial constraints facing an individual school district? The school district itself. Who best understands the athletic program levels and program offerings provided by a school? Why, the school of course. Why not let individual schools work out their own conference moves?
Impossible you say? Illinois has handled their conference realignments in just this manner for years…and by and large it has worked.