Saturday, July 03, 2010

The WIAA's Annual Bad Idea

Last summer, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association tried to implement what was obviously not a very good idea.

Their plan to realign the state's high school football universe into districts instead of conferences was voted down, but that didn't stop the association from doing more potential damage to the sport.

This summer's bad idea also involves football. The WIAA wants to find a way to take away the cluster of games that teams are stuck with as the playoffs begin. Currently, the state's teams play their final regular season games on a Thursday night, then open the playoffs on the following Tuesday. Second-round games are scheduled for Saturday of that same week, giving teams who reach the second round three games over a ten-day stretch.

Since they're high school-aged athletes, the WIAA thinks this might be too much. They're looking at a plan that would start the regular season one week earlier. While this might seem reasonable, it shortens the offseason for coaches who are already strained and stretched thin with the implementation of summer workouts for teams.

It also means one-third of the regular season will be played before Labor Day, and therefore before school starts in the state.

The state's coaches association is seeking a better solution.

The WFCA sent a letter to the state's high school sports governing body this week asking it to reopen discussions about how to change the football calendar to eliminate the 10-day stretch in which playoff teams play three games.

The communication comes in the wake of a Board of Control vote last week to move ahead the start of the season five days beginning in 2011, a decision the WFCA fears will cut into the numbers of struggling programs and possibly cause coaches to leave the business. The WFCA also asked for the opportunity to work with the WIAA to find another solution.

"We right now have the expertise of a large number of school administrators and WIAA people and coaches who are pretty darn sharp," WFCA executive director Dick Rundle said. "And to think that we couldn't sit down and come up with a better solution is unbelievable."

Down time for coaches in all sports has shrunk since the WIAA approved limited summer contact in all sports. For football coaches, summer vacation is even shorter because of summer conditioning and the start of practice, which eliminates August vacation time.

When the WIAA put this plan in place, they did it with a half-assed survey of the member schools. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article explains, the survey didn't thoroughly get an analysis of what schools were thinking about this situation.

This spring, schools were sent a survey with four options: start earlier, eliminate Week 9 and play eight regular-season games, move the state championship games back one week or cut the playoff field in half to 112 teams.

Instead of asking if there was a problem with the current schedule, the WIAA decided there was a problem with the schedule, without asking the football people around the state -- the coaches -- what they thought.

Thing is, the WIAA might be right. There might be a problem. In Minnesota, the state championship is one week later -- Thanksgiving weekend -- than it is in Wisconsin. This is due to their regular season being a week shorter, starting a week later, and the fact there is an extra round of playoffs before the title games (this is because all the teams make the playoffs, while half of the teams in Wisconsin do). They still have the issue of games scrunched together, but the last week of their regular season is played on a Wednesday, for the most part. That means there are three games in 11 days, which is a little more acceptable than three in ten days.

Is it so simple to fix this? Should Wisconsin move the last week of their regular season to Wednesday night?

How about cutting the playoff field? Do we really need a glut of 5-4 teams in the postseason because they finished 4-4 in league play and no one else was good enough to qualify? Even if you want to let more than 200 teams in the postseason, is it that bad to hold the state finals one week later? Yes, the games are played at an outdoor facility -- Madison's Camp Randall Stadium -- but does one week make that big a difference in the weather?

Probably not.

The state owes it to its member schools to listen to the concerns of the coaches. These guys are largely volunteers, only receiving a smallish amount of money to put in big-time hours during the season, and this move would increase those hours because it would elongate the season.

It's not necessary, and let's hope the WIAA listens. They did turn down the bad idea last year, and this bad idea needs to go by the wayside as well.

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