This week begins the highlight of winter this close to the Arctic Circle, the high school basketball playoffs.
A month or so after 10 teams hoist gold trophies at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon and the Kohl Center in Madison, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association will vote on a proposal to weight certain high schools’ enrollment numbers for postseason-organization purposes.
The genesis of what the WIAA will vote on April 22 is the belief that it is unfair for public schools to compete in the same enrollment divisions with similar-sized private schools, which can draw their student base from much larger geographic areas. That includes such familiar postseason opponents as Burlington Catholic Central, La Crosse Aquinas, Onalaska Luther, Lake Mills’ Lakeside Lutheran and Madison Edgewood. (Platteville beat the last two to get to state in volleyball.)
A group of small-school-district administrators proposed multiplying private schools’ enrollment to push them upward in enrollment class for basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball, similar to what Illinois does. Those who support such an approach would point to the WisSports.net top 10 this week, which includes two Division 3 girls teams, three Division 4 girls teams, three Division 5 girls teams, two Division 3 boys teams and four Division 4 boys teams that are parochial schools. Those who claim that nearly one-fourth of the ranked schools being private schools is out of proportion to private schools’ actual numbers would also point to three of the four girls volleyball champions from last November — Wausau Newman Catholic in Division 4, Waukesha Catholic Memorial in Division 2, and Milwaukee’s Divine Savior Holy Angels in Division 1. The proposal doesn’t include football, but note as well the state titles of Fond du Lac Springs and Wisconsin Lutheran last November.
A WIAA committee, however, immediately rejected a private-school-only multiplier (and what you will read one paragraph from now) and created what’s been called the “success factor” proposal, upon which the WIAA membership will vote April 22. The “success factor” would assess points for teams getting to state — one point for getting to the state quarterfinals, two for getting to the semifinals, three for getting to the title game, and four for winning state — and any school, public or private, that earned six success points over a three-year period would be pushed up an enrollment class the next school year. (You can read all about that at www.wiaawi.org/Schools/CompetitiveEquity.aspx.)
That, however, was not what the school officials who pointed out the public vs. private issue had in mind. Two of them, Belmont’s Jim Siedenburg and Barneveld’s Kevin Knudson, are circulating a petition for the WIAA membership to vote April 22 on an alternative, known as the “Minnesota Plan.” Apparently a Minnesota study revealed that students on free or reduced lunch are 40 percent less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Minnesota’s counterpart to the WIAA thus takes a school’s free- or reduced-lunch count and reduces enrollments by 40 percent of that number for postseason-alignment purposes. (You can go to www.wissports.net/news_article/show/478708?referrer_id=532521 and see how it would work among public schools.)
The first thought that comes to mind about the “Minnesota Plan” is that it’s unclear to me how it would help the smallest high schools in this area. There is no smaller enrollment division for any Six Rivers Conference school to go to. High schools in this area are dealing with dropping enrollments as the result of rural families having fewer children and the population shift eastward in this state. Platteville still is the largest high school in this area, but Platteville’s enrollment used to be near 800; now it’s below 500.
The second thought is that the objection to public schools’ competing against private schools does seem to be about the latter’s success, except that it’s only some private schools’ success. Ever heard of Marinette’s St. Thomas Aquinas, or Jackson’s Living Word Lutheran, or Kenosha Christian Life, or Milwaukee Science Academy? If you haven’t, that’s probably because their teams don’t show up deep into the high school postseason. Catholic Central and Aquinas do, among others.
The biggest problem here seems to be that these are issues that can’t really be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Should the WIAA get into the business of penalizing schools because they’re successful in certain sports? Unless you’re talking about a traditional power like Cuba City in basketball, talent ebbs and flows, and it seems unfair to handicap younger players who may not be as talented as their older classmates were. Should the WIAA perhaps go ahead to the past, so to speak, and separate private schools in the postseason? Some states do.
There is, however, another, bigger issue yet, and I’ll get to that in a future version of this space.