Dominican-Mineral Point photo

Mineral Point school district superintendent Luke Francois has put forth a divisional placement tournament model for boys and girls basketball. Here, Whitefish Bay Dominican's Diamond Stone (left) shoots against Mineral Point's Joey Gorgen during the first half of the Division 4 finals in the WIAA state boys basketball championship game in March 2015. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Mineral Point school district superintendent Luke Francois conferred with administrative colleagues and coaches.

At the suggestion of fellow WIAA Board of Control member Bill Yingst, Francois gathered U.S. Census information that would be considered concrete data and he pored over geographical locations and classification codes for rural or town schools and suburban or urban schools. When he looked at a map, he said geographical groupings generally made sense.

Francois then put pencil to paper and drew up a proposal he believes could address the competitive equity topic in prep boys and girls basketball that has smoldered in parts of the state, including in southwestern Wisconsin, in recent years due to the impact of private and small charter/choice schools.

“Rural schools in the southwestern part of the state, in our part of the state, have been looking for a competitive equity solution for some time,” Francois said this week. “The (WIAA) membership hasn’t embraced anything that would fit for the entire state.”

Francois said he ran his divisional placement proposal past several more people — including Cuba City boys basketball coach Jerry Petitgoue, Madison Edgewood athletic director and boys basketball coach Chris Zwettler and Mineral Point boys basketball coach Dan Burreson — and received positive feedback. That gave him confidence to bring the idea before the Board of Control last week.

“We want to create an opportunity for all schools to have a more reasonable chance from the onset … and to have a chance to chase a title,” said Francois, formerly athletic director at Middleton.

The Board of Control discussed Francois’ divisional placement plan for boys and girls basketball for more than an hour in the June 22 meeting and plans to make it a discussion topic at September’s statewide area meetings.

The Board of Control also decided to have the basketball coaches advisory committee convene earlier than normal — after the area meetings, likely in October — to scrutinize the proposal. That would permit the plan to journey through the WIAA’s committee structure and arrive back at the Board of Control in January.

The basketball tournament placement model would assign schools on a geographical basis in five divisions.

Division 1 – Schools with enrollments of 1,200 or more.

Division 2 – Schools with enrollments of 600 to 1,200.

Division 3 — Schools with classification codes of city or suburban with fewer than 600 students and schools with classification codes of town or rural with enrollments of 450 to 600 students, which weren’t placed in Divisions 4 and 5.

Division 4 – After Division 5 is determined, the 128 schools with the next lowest enrollments sponsoring basketball with classification codes of town or rural.

Division 5 – The 128 schools with the lowest enrollments sponsoring basketball with classification codes of town or rural.

Cooperative teams would be placed into divisional competition on the basis of the combined enrollment of the schools involved.

It should be noted that at recent state tournaments, Whitefish Bay Dominican defeated Mineral Point 75-49 in the WIAA Division 4 boys basketball championship game in 2015, while Mineral Point topped Kenosha St. Joseph 68-52 in the Division 4 girls basketball title game in 2016.

Francois said Mineral Point’s geographical draw for students, even with open enrollment, cannot compare to the I-43 corridor in southeastern Wisconsin.

“In the I-43 corridor, there are more students in a 10- to 20-mile radius then we’d have in our county,” Francois said.

The competitive equity subject has resulted in debate and various proposals — including the recent “success factor” idea, which was defeated by a 221-198 vote at the 2016 WIAA meeting — and usually has fallen into a public vs. private school dialogue.

“The issue hasn’t been resolved,” WIAA communications director Todd Clark said.

So, despite other plans being voted down, continuing concern raised by WIAA member schools about competitive inequity keeps the topic alive and as one the WIAA wants to examine, Clark said.

Past votes on the topic demonstrate there certainly will be opposition to the proposal. Clark said that often comes when a school realizes how a new model specifically affects that school and the teams it has to play.

Under Francois’ proposal, many southeastern schools (classified as suburban or urban) likely would play in no lower than Division 3, no matter their enrollments, and some smaller schools could end up playing in Division 3, depending on how the enrollment numbers break down.

Francois said initial responses he’s received have been positive and he has “cautious optimism” about his proposal’s chances, but he realizes there will be opposition.

Unlike other competitive equity proposals that would have resulted in WIAA constitutional changes, Francois said this is a specific sport regulation change, not a constitutional change. That means, he said, it could be approved by the Board of Control — much like the board last week approved the use of a 35-second shot clock for the 2019-20 season. Once the plan returns to the Board of Control in January, it could be approved, denied or modified, he said.

But right now we’re just in the preliminary discussion phase. That’s why the area meetings will be a critical time for people to voice their opinions.

Clark said those meetings will be the first sounding board and he hopes there will be “robust and healthy discussion.” Then the various committees get their chance to further scrutinize and poke holes in the plan.

“Everyone should be able to weigh in through the process,” Francois said.

While ideas about district plans for football and conference-only realignment for football still are percolating, Francois said he believes the membership needs to focus on this basketball divisional placement model first.

“Basketball should take our focus for the short term,” Francois said. “To put two big items on the plate isn’t sound or prudent for us. Put the basketball proposal on the table and let’s vet it and see if it’s sound or unsound.”

Contact Jon Masson at jmasson@madison.com.

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