Prep football: WFCA realignment proposal includes changes for Big Eight, Badger in 2020

July 13, 2018

The process began in 2017 when leaders from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association were tasked with examining conference realignment for football in the state.

Now, after countless meetings and statewide input, the final draft of the WFCA’s proposal to the WIAA is completed and ready to be released for public consumption on July 23, according to Doug Sarver, the WFCA president and longtime St. Francis football coach.

Seventy-two teams — about 18 percent of the football programs statewide — will change conferences for football only starting in 2020 under the proposal, Sarver said. Conference alignments for all other sports wouldn’t change.

Since WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki outlined the plan’s progress at the WIAA annual meeting in April, it was evident that, if passed, the Big Eight, Badger and other area conferences would take on new looks for football come 2020.

There primarily will be eight-team conferences, though some conferences will have seven teams, in the plan that still faces scrutiny from the WIAA Board of Control and at WIAA area meetings in the fall.

“The objective is to create uniformity across the state,” Sarver said. “There are conferences with 11, 10, nine, eight, seven, six and five teams now. With the new model, I think there would be 40 conferences of eight and 10 conferences of seven, give or take. The seven-team conferences will sister with another conference, based on geography and enrollments. And we will have Weeks 1 and 2 open for non-conference schedules.”

Under the new model, the 10-team Big Eight Conference would become an eight-team league for football, with Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker moving to the Badger South Conference. Madison Edgewood and Monroe would move out of the Badger South and into the Rock Valley Conference.

Sarver and Labecki declined to discuss switches for specific schools, but several sources have confirmed the proposed Big Eight and Badger changes. That includes Verona coach Dave Richardson, who believes the WFCA’s model is “the right move.”

Richardson said Big Eight teams will benefit from having two non-conference games. Big Eight teams currently play only the nine conference opponents during the regular season.

“The first two weeks with non-conference opponents, you could get things rolling with your team before the conference season starts,” Richardson said. “Now, in the Big Eight, every game matters. It’s the luck of the draw (which teams you face early in the season). … You lose one game and you might not be a No. 1 seed.

“I’ve seen it both ways, but I think having eight teams is ideal for us. My understanding is the two Janesville schools will go to the Badger and we will be set. I think it’s a good move and I think the Janesville schools are OK with it. I know they will miss getting to play Beloit Memorial (in conference action), but they can schedule Beloit in a non-conference setting.”

Richardson said Big Eight coaches and administrators have discussed partnering with a Milwaukee-area conference, possibly the Classic 8 or Greater Metro, to make for more streamlined non-conference scheduling. Matchups would be determined by previous season conference standings, he said.

Sun Prairie football coach Brian Kaminski agreed with Richardson about having the opportunity to play two non-conference games, saying: “It will be fun to get out and compete against some new teams.”

Potential 2020 Big Eight non-conference scheduling is on hold until realignment becomes official, Richardson said.

The model’s final draft will be shown to district representatives and coaches the morning of July 21, prior to the three WFCA All-Star football games at UW-Oshkosh’s Titan Stadium, said Sarver, chairman of the WFCA All-Star Games.

Then school athletic directors and superintendents are scheduled to receive the proposed conference realignment list, he said.

On July 23, the WFCA is scheduled to release the proposal on its website, including the conference list, rationale and timeline, Sarver said.

The WIAA Board of Control then will look at the proposal at its Aug. 10 meeting, followed by discussion of the topic at the WIAA area meetings in September, Labecki said. The plan, with any possible changes, likely would come before the Board of Control at its Oct. 5 and Dec. 7 meetings, with a vote possible at one of those meetings.

Labecki said the coaches association has worked hard on the plan. “It is a nice plan that overall will help football,” he said.

Kaminski, a district representative, said he is eager to see the final version.

“I think (the plan) has good merit to it,” Kaminski said. “I think it’s a positive thing for football in Wisconsin.”

Kaminski said improving enrollment balance in some conferences is a positive to the plan.

A 2-to-1 enrollment ratio within conferences was the goal, Labecki said. The WFCA tried to adhere to that as best as it could, Sarver said.

Madison Edgewood, the smallest school in the Badger Conference, has publicly expressed its desire to play football in a different conference for competitive reasons. Under this WFCA proposal, Edgewood and Monroe would shift to the Rock Valley for football only.

After Watertown and Beaver Dam joined the Badger Conference for the 2017-18 school year — giving the Badger North and Badger South eight teams apiece — conference officials said the league might take another look at a future readjustment for all sports based on enrollments. Watertown currently has the largest enrollment in the Badger Conference.

Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow said any discussion about reconfiguring the Badger Conference based on enrollment has been put on hold. While he declined to discuss specific schools, he said the conference has been told two teams will be leaving and two are entering the Badger South for football under the WFCA plan.

The arrival of the Janesville schools in 2020 would make Craig and Parker the largest schools in the Badger South, ahead of Watertown. The other Badger South schools would be Fort Atkinson, Milton, Monona Grove, Oregon and Stoughton.

A domino effect would be created by programs shifting to different conferences and Sarver, without providing specifics, said there would be changes in other area conferences.

The expected move of Edgewood and Monroe will affect the future configuration of the Rock Valley, which currently has 10 teams. Two or four teams could be added or four teams could leave.

Other conferences with area schools that face impact include the six-team Capitol North and five-team Capitol South, the six-team South Central and leagues in the southwestern part of the state, the SWAL and SWC.

If this proposal is approved and the model goes into effect in 2020, it’s expected that every two years conference alignments will be up for re-examination and schools will be able to request moves, if circumstances or enrollments have changed.

Labecki said a cautious approach was taken with putting together the plan, trying to avoid pushing too fast with a proposal, which he believed happened with a previous district plan.

Sarver said much time was put in since the WFCA accepted the task in December, 2017, and described the partnership with the WIAA as “unprecedented.” Schools proposed to be shifted were contacted during the process, said Sarver, who believes the plan was needed across the state.

“We took our time,” Sarver said. “We did our due diligence. … We contacted as many people as we could to get their input.”

Sarver understands that not every football program will be pleased, though adding that 75 percent of his emails about the proposal have been positive.

Richardson also realizes everyone “won’t be happy.” But he clearly favors the plan, adding he believes such a move will greatly benefit the Edgewood football program.

Richardson said state coaches and administrators can feel ownership in the proposal because they have had an opportunity for input and there was a collective effort to work on the issue between the WFCA and the WIAA.

“Change is hard,” Richardson said. “You have to grow into it. I like the way we are moving to save football.”