The Aquinas High School football team will be welcomed to the Coulee Conference by a happy Arcadia program if a realignment proposal submitted Monday by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association becomes reality for the 2020 season.
The WFCA — with input from the WIAA executive staff — submitted a statewide plan for football-only realignment based on enrollment and geography that will enter the WIAA voting process on the heels of a local plan that was passed last spring for 2019.
The Blugolds, who draw players from a student enrollment of 289, would join the Raiders in a seven-team Coulee that also would include Black River Falls, G-E-T, Westby, Durand and Mondovi.
“It’s good for us, and so is the plan that is happening for 2019, because it compares apples to apples and not apples to oranges,” Aquinas coach Tom Lee said. “Travel-wise, this is better than the plan in place for 2019.”
Arcadia, which was moved to a conference that involves extensive travel in the 2019 plan, gets to stick with more familiar opponents much closer to home in the new proposal.
The Coulee undergoes the biggest change that also includes the addition of a team to the MVC. River Falls will be the eighth team in a conference that will retain Central, Logan, Holmen, Onalaska, Sparta, Tomah and West Salem.
The development of the statewide proposal is the latest step in a process that has been debated for more than a decade. The 2019 plan, which affected conferences only this this part of the state, did not include additions to the MVC, leaving it at seven teams.
The WFCA said 18 percent (72 of 390) of the state’s 11-man teams — Wisconsin also offers 8-man football — would change conferences in the plan. The intention was to create eight-school conferences, and those with just seven teams will be assigned sister conferences to facilitate scheduling additional nonconference games.
Arcadia’s placement for 2019 requires a lot of travel. Round trips to five of the other seven schools are more the 200 miles, and two — Dodgeville and Platteville — are around the 300-mile mark.
“We didn’t get as fair of a shake in the first one,” Arcadia athletic director Bruce Schweisthal said. “When you add more schools in a bigger plan like this, look what happens. This is fair to us.”
West Salem, with its enrollment of 506, is the smallest school in the MVC by a wide margin. That, however, is the same spot the Panthers find themselves in with the 2019 plan. Logan (796) is the second-smallest school. River Falls (989) checks in behind Holmen (1,137) and Central (1,078).
An argument could be made that Black River Falls (518) could have joined the MVC, and West Salem could have shifted back to the Coulee, but the numbers are very close. The Panthers have also succeeded in the MVC after tying for the championship last season.
Other changes in the Coulee include Viroqua heading to the SWC and Onalaska Luther shifting to the Scenic Bluffs.
The WIAA will seek input from schools at upcoming area meetings and can still alter the plan before upcoming votes.