As high school football teams travel all over the state this week for the playoffs, I'm going to let you in on a story that has been greatly under-reported: Fans should get used to longer road trips in the future.
The WIAA is looking to re-draw conferences throughout the state--doing away regional groupings and moving toward having everyone play schools the same size. That would unfortunately mean the end of the Fox Valley Association for football.
Under the current version of the plan, the state would be divided into eight sections--with eight classes of schools based on enrollment. There would be eight Division One teams, eight Division Two teams, etc. per section. Schools would play seven "conference" games and two "non-conference" games--with the top four teams in each section automatically making the playoffs--regardless of record.
Thanks to a concentration of bigger schools on the north end of the Fox Valley, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac would be assigned to a district with Manitowoc, the two Sheboygan schools, Neenah and Hartford. According to an on-line calculator, the switch would double the average distance Oshkosh teams would have to travel for all their conference games. Kimberly and Menasha would get grouped with schools in the Green Bay suburbs and Plymouth--also seeing their travel distances double. The Appleton schools would get paired with the Green Bay city schools--and Wisconsin Rapids--which has few other Division One schools near it.
Omro would be the biggest loser in the new alignment--as their average travel distance for conference games would be 60-miles--with a nice 113-mile trip to Marshfield in there. One school that would win big time would be Oshkosh Lourdes--as their travel would be cut by a third--with a grouping that includes Laconia, St Mary's Springs and Markesan.
Sectional groupings would also change as school enrollments fluctuate over the years. It's entirely possible that Oshkosh North could fall to a D-2 classification--meaning they wouldn't be in the same conference as West--although the teams could schedule a "non-conference" game. And that classification could change several times--meaning North would face a different slate of opponents every year--making it difficult to develop or maintain the rivalries that kids and fans love.
Right now, the re-districting plan applies only to football. I guess the WIAA realizes a trip to Manitowoc from Oshkosh on a February school night in a snowstorm might not be the best for basketball teams--but they could always change their mind in the future. Normally, I would encourage you to send letters or e-mails to protest this change--but having to deal with the WIAA, I know they don't give a rat's behind what people other than fellow WIAA executives think. So add a little bit more to the gas budget, fans--and get ready for that big trip to Hartford.