The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is mobilizing against a bill that would allow students receiving their education outside a WIAA-affiliated institution to play for public school athletic teams.
WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson Thursday urged superintendents and athletic directors to contact their state legislators and “tell them the bill is a dog.”
“We have strong reservations about this,” Anderson said during an area meeting in Black River Falls, one of 10 the WIAA conducts across the state.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, mandates that students attending a charter, voucher or virtual school, along with home-schooled students, be allowed to participate in interscholastic activities in the public school district in which they reside.
It would prohibit school districts from belonging to any organization that doesn’t allow such participation. While the WIAA is a private organization outside the legislature’s reach, the bill would, in effect, force the WIAA to accept the change or lose its entire public school membership.
Anderson asked the 50 people in attendance if anyone supported the bill. Nobody raised his or her hand.
La Crosse Aquinas Principal Ted Knutson said private schools aren’t pushing the idea.
“I don’t know where this came from,” Knutson said. “It doesn’t have private school support.”
Anderson said Thiesfeldt didn’t consult the WIAA before introducing the bill. He expressed concern the bill would make it more difficult for the WIAA to track students and monitor eligibility. He said the original reason the WIAA was founded in 1895 was to verify whether participants were actually high school students.
“If we’re going to play against each other, we need to know who we’re competing against,” Anderson said. “We aren’t like the NCAA. We don’t have an investigative branch. We don’t have an enforcement branch.”
The bill also requires public schools to allow private school students to play on their sports teams if the private school doesn’t offer the sport.
Anderson and Knutson said that part of the bill is unnecessary. Knutson said private schools can form a cooperative with a public school and offered the La Crosse Aquinas-Holmen hockey co-op as an example.
Anderson said any school — whether it’s a private, charter or virtual school — is free to join the WIAA for the annual fee of $25.
La Crosse Central athletic director Joe Beran said the bill, if enacted, would make it difficult for the WIAA to establish accurate enrollment figures for determining division placement in postseason tournaments.
On another issue, Anderson said it’s likely the WIAA will relinquish its role in assigning conference affiliation. He said the WIAA could propose the change as early as next year.
“That’s the way it used to be ... It’s probably the way it’s done in most states,” Anderson said. “You can reclaim the authority to take on conference realignment yourself.”
The first hour of the meeting was devoted to issues of amateur standing. Anderson said the WIAA has long allowed an “exceptional athlete waiver for an exceptional competition,” in which the athlete’s travel, lodging and meal costs are reimbursed.
Recently there has been a proliferation of all-expense-paid camps. The WIAA prohibits student-athletes being reimbursed for travel, meals and gear for such camps, and most in attendance opposed changing the regulation.
Fall Creek athletic director Brad LaPoint said outside groups that host camps and out-of-season competitions pose a threat to high school athletics.
“When we look ahead 20 to 30 years, what we have won’t exist,” LaPoint said. “It will be like Europe.”