Every so often over the course of a typical business day, I receive a breaking story, either via a text message or over my Twitter feed, that I simply can’t help but dig deeper into. In particular, this past week, news that the WIAA Board of Control (henceforth BOC) had voted 9-1 in favor of a major high school football conference re-alignment reached my desk, and I practically salivated at the news. We can argue about the pros and cons of the proposal, which will be up for a vote of approval at the BOC’s March 2nd meeting, but the fact is this matter of conference realignment is one that has been debated about for years, not just in our area, but the entire state. And although the decision was certainly not final, it certainly makes the March 2nd meeting much more interesting.
First, let’s lay out what this proposal would bring about if passed. Currently, La Crosse Aquinas plays in the MVC, a conference where its next closest competition as far as enrollment is West Salem at 506, and then La Crosse Logan at 796. Under this plan, in 2019 Aquinas would leave the conference after two decades, and blaze a new trail with a completely new conference (for simplicity, the BOC named each of the three new conferences A, B, and C, with Aquinas in A). Joining them in Conference A would be Onalaska Luther, and there’s where things get really interesting. Rather than having the Coulee Conference exist with five teams, or gathering another team or two to join, the conference for football purposes would end, and each of the remaining teams would join either Conference B or C, as listed below:
*It should be noted that West Salem is no longer included in the changes; per an amendment at the meeting, they will remain in the MVC.
To properly analyze the vote and its repercussions, I needed a reliable source with a cache of experience in this field. Who better to turn to than a person who was right there at the meeting? WisSports.net GM Travis Wilson would prove to be an invaluable source of information, as he typically is with regards to anything high school sports related in the Badger State. His take away from the meeting was that the MVC schools involved (Aquinas and West Salem) were largely in favor of the proposal, indicating a desire for more competitive games and willing to accept the cost of increased travel times. On the opposite end, schools such as Arcadia and G-E-T were not in favor of sacrificing regional games to travel such long distances. Doing the math, the Raiders could end up travelling as far as three hours for a game with Platteville, and G-E-T would head 100 miles for many of their road contests.
Now in the interest of fairness, most basketball players have to make multiple long road trips during the course of a season, and they usually play two games a week. However, the distance being travelled here affects the situation in more than just road time. This realignment will dismantle a system that has been a part of this region for generations. For many years after this arrangement would be theoretically put in place, our area teams would face opponents they have little if any history with. Gone would be the Coulee Region rivalries that have defined the region for decades, and with it, a piece of what makes Friday nights in fall an integral part of the community experience. Many people who would gladly drive to Holmen to watch the Blugolds and Vikings duke it out simply can’t make the two and a half plus hour road trip to Cuba City. Same with Arcadia trips to Platteville, and G-E-T treks to Wautoma.
Ultimately, the plan may come to naught, as there is already a plan in place to COMPLETELY redo the conferences in Wisconsin in 2020, and if the plan laid out in this piece WERE put into effect, it could easily serve as a placeholder, a one-off experiment before the big changes would occur the next year. Certain MVC coaches and AD’s believe the massive overhaul is the more likely scenario, but even if that does come to fruition, it still rips apart the fabric of Wisconsin high school football completely at the seams.
College football made its first incursion into Friday night lights last year by putting Wisconsin in a game on a Friday evening. Conference realignment threatens to break the whole thing up and piece it back together how the suits see fit. It’s easy to propose these changes under the guise of competitive fairness, but the fans of the future may not look so kindly on us if, on March 2nd, the guillotine starts to fall on our current setup.
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