Waupaca may stay in Bay
Football realignment plan unveiled
By Greg Seubert
A proposed football-only conference realignment plan won’t have a major effect on area high school teams.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and Wisconsin Football Coaches Association unveiled the plan in July that would take effect starting with the 2020 season.
“The objective of the plan is to form a football-only conference model that brings uniformity to the number of schools affiliated with a conference and the number of conference games played by each team,” according to a WIAA press release announcing the proposal. “The WIAA Board of Control and executive staff have encountered persistent and growing sentiments from member schools throughout the state requesting relief for football. A number of factors identify why a plan of action is needed and appropriate, including disparities in number of conference games relating to playoff qualification; difficulties in scheduling nonconference games; school enrollment and competitive disparities within conferences; the formation of co-op programs; the implementation of an eight-player football tournament; and programs dropping varsity season schedules because of low participation.”
Waupaca will see the biggest change if the plan takes effect. The Comets currently compete in the Bay Conference for football only with Green Bay East, Green Bay West, Menasha, New London, Seymour, Shawano, West De Pere and Xavier.
The plan calls for Waupaca to remain in the Bay, along with New London, Shawano, Seymour and Xavier. Marinette and Fox Valley Lutheran would join the Bay from the North Eastern Conference.
Shawano would be the largest school in the Bay with an enrollment of 797 students, followed by Seymour (700), Waupaca (665), New London (633), Fox Valley Lutheran (618), Marinette (600) and Xavier (533).
Green Bay East (1,261), Menasha (982), West De Pere (951) and Green Bay West (848) would be placed in the Fox River Classic Conference.
Menasha and West De Pere shared the Bay Conference championship last year with 7-1 records.
“Menasha and West De Pere are twice the size of the schools in our conference,” Waupaca coach Tom Noltner said. “They’ve made it clear that they want out. It’ll be back to playing schools of your size. I think it should be a very good fit for us in 2020 when this happens and it’ll be a nice change for us.
“(The Bay) will still be one of the top conferences in the state,” he added. “These teams are very good that we play around here.”
The plan keeps the area’s other four teams – Iola-Scandinavia, Weyauwega-Fremont, Manawa and Amherst – in the Central Wisconsin Large Conference.
Amherst is the largest school in the conference with 339 students, followed by Wittenberg-Birnamwood (328), Bonduel (309), Weyauwega-Fremont (266), Manawa (239), Shiocton (224), Pacelli (212) and Iola-Scandinavia (208).
“Overall, it’s a pretty good plan trying to get conferences evened out,” Iola-Scandinavia coach Scott Erickson said. “It doesn’t affect us at all, as far as the conference goes.”
“The objective of the WFCA plan is to form a football-only conference model for implementation in the 2020 season that brings uniformity to the number of schools per conference and the number of conference games played by each team,” the coaches association said in announcing the plan. “Currently, some conferences feature as many as 11 teams while others feature as few as four. Some teams must win five games to qualify for the playoffs, while others have to win as few as two. Many schools are also having significant difficulty in finding nonconference games during the middle of the season if in a league with an odd number of teams.
“The framework of the plan is to move all 11-player football programs into uniform conference alignments of mostly eight- but some seven-team leagues, along with nine-team conferences depending on total number of schools offering football. It has been our objective from the start to keep as many conferences together as possible while reaching the stated goals of the proposal. The WFCA final draft has moved only 18 percent – 72 of 390-plus teams – playing 11-player football to a different conference. The WFCA has sought input from its members and contacted most of those schools that would change conferences. It is also worth noting that a 2017 WFCA survey showed more than 65 percent of coaches favored developing football-only conferences over the status quo.
“This plan is a joint effort between the WFCA and WIAA executive staff that addresses many of the problems with the current conference realignment process and issues related to playoff qualification in many parts of the state while creating uniformity in how teams make the postseason. The WFCA and the WIAA realize that when tackling something this big, some members will be unhappy with their conference placement. No plan will ever be perfect for everyone. No plan will ever make everyone 100-percent happy.”
Erickson said the WIAA also needs to look at football’s early starting dates.
Teams began practicing Aug. 1 and most will play their first game Friday, Aug. 17. A handful of teams, however, including New London and Clintonville, will open the season Thursday, Aug. 16.
“I coach football 12 months out of the year, but in reality, our kids need to have some type of a summer and recharge their batteries, especially if they’re playing three sports or two sports,” he said. “Some kids are playing baseball in the summer and working. There’s a plan out there, but that’s for another discussion.”
Erickson’s Thunderbirds will have played three of its nine regular-season games before school starts Tuesday, Sept. 4.
“The hard part is you start football a month before school starts,” he said. “There are kids that look at the calendar and say, ‘Hey, I can have another month off, I’m not playing.’ (Football participation) numbers are down just about everywhere you go and that has a lot to do with it. Next year, we won’t start until around the fifth or sixth (of August), but that’s still early and it needs to be addressed at some point, not just the conference realignment. We have to start thinking of what’s best for football and what’s best for kids.”