Like those before it, the latest proposed solution to the problem of small-school competitive balance in Wisconsin high school basketball has withered and died on the vine.
The latest proposal, spearheaded by Mineral Point superintendent Luke Francois, was discussed — and allowed to fizzle out — during Wednesday’s WIAA Board of Control meeting in Stevens Point.
By a 6-5 vote, the Board of Control declined to table Francois’ proposal until the spring WIAA Annual Meeting — effectively killing any move to address the issue for another year.
Francois’ “rural/urban” proposal aimed to re-engineer the placement of schools in the lower rungs of the WIAA’s five enrollment divisions. Under the plan as presented Wednesday, smaller schools located in zip codes classified as “urban” or “suburban” by the U.S. Census Bureau would be bumped up one enrollment classification for WIAA basketball tournaments.
The plan was meant to address the constant presence — and success — of small, private high schools in lower divisions (particularly Division 4) at the WIAA state basketball tournament.
The WIAA added a fifth division in 2011 — another move aimed to address the competitive balance issue. But a small, urban private school has won the last six Division 4 titles — five for Whitefish Bay Dominican and one (last year) for Milwaukee Destiny. The average margin of victory in those state finals was 19.9 points.
Also since 2011, small urban private schools have claimed 19 of 42 available state boys basketball finals spots in Divisions 3, 4 and 5, winning 12 of 21 possible championships. And since the private schools first entered the WIAA basketball tournament in 2001, private-school boys teams have won Division 3, 4 and 5 titles 21 times, to 20 titles for public schools.
Despite winning more than half the Division 3, 4 and 5 state boys basketball titles since joining the WIAA, private schools made up about 18 percent of the schools in last year’s Divisions 3, 4 and 5 brackets.
Proponents of the rural/urban plan point out that urban private schools have a much larger population base to draw from, along with access to off-season AAU programs, networking among players and coaches, summer leagues and other advantages that rural schools simply can’t access.
Opponents of the plan, however, claim it is unfair — even racially insensitive — to penalize small schools based on their urban location. Many suggested reviving the previously defeated “success factor,” bumping up the most successful schools to a higher division, or using additional demographic methods to determine divisional placement.
Francois’ plan, already revised once, was seen as being too flawed to advance to a vote of the general WIAA membership at the annual meeting. His move to table the proposal, possibly to get more time to refine it, also was rejected.
Wednesday's outcome — along with the decision of the impartial WIAA leadership to avoid stepping in and making its own recommendation — increases the possibility, however small, that the competitive balance issue could eventually land the WIAA in court or in front of the state Legislature.
Football conference plans
The board voted to support development of a statewide revamp of football-only conferences, which would be presented in December at the WIAA Football Coaches Advisory Committee meeting.
The board also made two changes to a realignment plan proposed by seven southwestern Wisconsin conferences, realigning them into football-only conferences to better match enrollments. The changes added Westfield to Conference C and moved West Salem from Conference C to the Mississippi Valley Conference.
A copy of the plan is viewable here.
The statewide plan will differ from the “district” plan adopted by some nearby states, which groups teams into enrollment-based districts, rather than conferences, and then alters district alignments based on changes in enrollment.
The proposed Wisconsin conference revamp would lean heavily toward keeping schools of similar size together, but other factors (such as natural rivalries and geographical concerns) also would be part of the final decisions.
If all goes smoothly, the plan would be advanced with the idea of implementing it for the 2020 football season.
The board also voted to allow schools that play their first football game on a Thursday to begin practice earlier (July 31 this year), allowing for 14 days of practice before the first game.
Eight-player football changes
The growth trend in eight-player football also received WIAA attention. According to a plan advanced by the board, schools seeking to participate in eight-player football playoffs must declare their intent in an even-numbered year (2018 or 2020 and beyond), with a commitment of at least two years as an eight-player program.
Also, programs seeking eight-player playoff eligibility must have an average enrollment of 200 or fewer students in the three years prior to their commitment year.
Also on Wednesday, the Board of Control approved a plan to relocate the state boys volleyball tournament to the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, to run concurrently with the state girls volleyball tournament already held there.
The board approved a four-year commitment to the change, starting in the fall of 2019. The boys tournament had been held at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee.
The board also approved a seeding plan for the Division 1 state girls volleyball field, starting this fall. Coaches will hold a conference to seed the top four teams of the eight-team field. The seeded teams will then be arranged on a 1-4-3-2 bracket, with the four remaining teams assigned to first-round matches on a random draw.
The board approved a rule that would mandate ending a game after 60 minutes if the score differential is 10 goals or greater. Also, the first round of Division 1 and 2 boys and girls regional games was moved two days earlier, to a Tuesday.
The board also approved the renewal of the WIAA’s agreement to hold the state tournament at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee, through 2025. The tournament first came to Milwaukee in the fall of 2003.