STEVENS POINT — The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control approved a first consideration of a conference alignment plan for eight-player football beginning in 2020 at its May meeting earlier this summer.
The plan places eight-player programs into eight six-team conferences. Each conference will be paired with another six-team league in their region to provide crossover games.
Belmont, which will play its inaugural season eight-player football this fall as an independent, will find an eight-player conference home next season and with it greatly reduced travel should the proposal be approved.
Membership rules require a 40-day window for schools involved in conference alignment plans to appeal the first consideration of the Board before it takes final action. Thus, schools have until June 26 to file an appeal of the initial vote. The Board will give final consideration of the plan at its meeting on Aug. 9.
The Belmont Community School District Board of Education approved a switch to eight-player last November.
Principal Rich Moyer spoke to the Belmont school board last November about information he gave parents and community members at a meeting to discuss football, with three options — stay with 11-man, try to co-op with another high school, and switch to eight-man football.
Moyer said if Belmont stayed 11-man Belmont would join the Ridge and Valley Conference next season and then in 2020 would go back into the Six Rivers Conference, according to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s proposed realignment, which requires WIAA approval. Currently the numbers are not there to stay in 11-man football.
The second option was co-oping with another team. Moyer contacted several teams around Belmont: Platteville, Darlington, Mineral Point, Cuba City, Shullsburg and Highland. All those teams stated they were not interested except Highland. Highland contacted Belmont to talk about what a co-op would look like.
At a meeting of superintendents, athletic directors and principals in Richland Center earlier in November, Highland came back and said they were fine for the 2019 season. They weren’t looking to co-op for 2019 and would see how things went when it came to the 2020 season. Co-oping was then taken off the table for options.
Benton/Scales Mound and Shullsburg are applied to the WIAA and were approved to form a tri-op team for this coming season after Shullsburg decided against going eight-man. Black Hawk is co-oping with Warren, Ill. beginning this year.
The only remaining option for Belmont was eight-man football. At the community meeting, Moyer explained what the football season would look like. In order for Belmont to be eligible for the 2019 WIAA eight-man playoffs, they would need to approve the eight-man football application by Dec. 1.
“Having the chance at the playoffs was important for our young players who have been working hard to get better,” said co-coach Brandon Wiese. “This allows them to have that goal. It is our opportunity to control our own destiny and go in a new direction. Hopefully, this brings stability in the program.”
With 11 projected freshmen joining the team this fall and just four seniors lost to graduation, Wiese says the team will have around 30 players out for football in 2019.
There are 48 teams set to play eight-man football this season. The closest school is Wisconsin Heights, 50 miles from Belmont. The Braves will open their season with a scrimmage at Heights on Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. Belmont will also host the Vangaurds Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in a regular season game.
Belmont will open the season Aug. 22 at home against Elhart Lake–Glenbeulah. The Braves will hit the road for games at Oakfield (Aug. 29), Kickapoo/La Farge (Sept. 28) and at ElkhartLake-Glenbbeulah.
Belmont will close out the regular season Friday, Oct. 18 at home against Wausau Newman Catholic.
The top eight teams make the WIAA eight-player football playoffs, which begin Oct. 25. The 2019 eight-player state championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9 at Stanley-Boyd High School.
Should the WIAA proposal for eight-player conference realignment be approved, Belmont (enrollment 104) would be played in the 12-team South Region and grouped into a six-team conference in southwest Wisconsin along with La Farge (64), Weston (84), Wonewoc–Center (107), North Crawford (145) and Kickapoo (166).
The other conference in the South region would consist of Madison Abundant Life Christian/St. Ambrose (75), Elkhart Lake/Glenbeulah (141), Oakfield (149), Williams Bay (206), Wisconsin Heights (229) and St. Mary Catholic/Valley Christian (315).