Eight-man additions spur realignment talk; Ashland, Hayward may be stuck
A potential new eight-player football conference for Gilman cleared its first hurdle last week, while the attempted departures by two teams in the Great Northern Conference were denied by the WIAA’s Conference Realignment Task Force. The group reviewed 17 football-only requests in the first meeting of the membership’s 2022-23 realignment review process on Dec. 8.
Hayward and Ashland, who requested to leave the Great Northern Conference for the Heart O’ North Conference, were among seven 11-player teams to have their requests denied.
A proposed reshuffling of northern Wisconsin’s eight-player conferences was advanced for further review at the Realignment Task Force’s Jan. 6 meeting. In that plan, Gilman would move from the current Central Wisconsin West Conference to a Central Wisconsin East that would reunite the Pirates with many of their traditional rivals. The six-team league would include Athens, Greenwood, Owen-Withee, Thorp and Alma Center Lincoln. Lincoln and Gilman are currently in the same conference, while Athens, Thorp and Owen-Withee played 11-man football this past fall in the new-look Marawood Conference. Those three schools requested to begin playing eight-man football in 2022.
The Central Wisconsin West, which Gilman won this fall with a perfect 5-0 record, would keep Bruce, New Auburn and McDonell Central under the current plan. After losing Lincoln, Gilman and Phillips, that league would gain Prairie Farm and the new eight-man teams from Cornell and Lake Holcombe in 2022 under last week’s proposal. The Lake Holcombe-Cornell 11man co-op is ending after the 2021 season, meaning the Knights will be leaving the Lakeland Conference which includes Rib Lake-Prentice.
The modified eight-player plan that is being advanced impacts the entire state and several 11-player conferences. The plan originated with requests from De Soto, Lake Holcombe, Niagara and Pembine/Goodman and forms 11 conferences for eight-player football.
In this part of the state, the proposed moves by Owen- Withee, Thorp and Athens result in a potential sixteam, 11-player Marawood Conference of Abbotsford, Auburndale, Colby, Edgar, Marathon and Pittsville that would be paired with a Central Wisconsin Small Conference of Wisconsin Rapids Assumption, Iola-Scandinavia, Loyal, Stevens Point Pacelli, Rosholt and Wild Rose to provide each team the required seven conference games.
If plans that were approved last week advance from the Jan. 6 meeting, the Board of Control will review and make a final determination on each of the proposals at its March 5 meeting.
GNC teams denied
The requests by Hayward and Ashland to leave the GNC were not surprising, but their unanimous 17-0 re- jections by the task force may have been.
Hayward is a longtime member of the Heart O’ North Conference in most sports and Ashland is set to become a full-time member of that conference in other sports next fall. Neither school feels it is big enough to compete in the GNC.
The Hurricanes became the eighth GNC football team this fall when the WIAA attempted to debut its statewide conference realignment model. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the season in virtually every area of the state with many southern and largecity teams and leagues putting off their seasons until spring.
Ashland, a longtime rival of Medford’s since the days of the Lumberjack Conference, was moved to the Great Northern Conference for football in 2011 and has struggled for the most part, going 18-43 in GNC games and 24-65 overall in that time. The Oredockers won the GNC title in 2018 with a 6-0, 8-2 record and posted a 4-3, 4-4 record this past fall.
In its proposal, Ashland suggested Wausau East should fill a spot in the GNC. Hayward suggested Rice Lake fill a spot, or the GNC and Mississippi Valley should become sister conferences with crossover games.
Realignment plans submitted by Marinette, Oshkosh North and Oshkosh West, and West Allis Central and West Allis Hale also were rejected. Those schools may all appeal the task force’s decisions at the Jan. 6 meeting.
A noteworthy approval affecting larger schools in northern Wisconsin has River Falls and West Salem leaving the new-look Mississippi Valley Conference that was supposed to debut in 2020. River Falls would go back to its traditional Big Rivers Conference, a move that would bump Rice Lake to the Middle Border Conference.
Appeals, if successful, will be communicated with the membership and reevaluated by the task force. If the revised solutions are approved on appeal, they will be submitted to the Board of Control for consideration with any modifications and solutions communicated to the membership. If the appeal is not approved by the task force schools can make a final appeal to the Board of Control at its meeting on Jan. 27.
The extensive football conference realignment plans are outlined with links to the detailed proposed conference affi liations on the “Requests and Proposals” option on the WIAA’s Conference Realignment web page, https://www. wiaawi.org/Schools/Conferences/Conference- Realignment.