Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wisconsin School Uses Loophole, Sues To Make Football Playoffs

We've discussed this before, but high school football is a bit different in Wisconsin than it is in Minnesota. In Minnesota, the high school football playoffs include everybody, with the exception of the bottom teams in sections that have more than eight teams (there aren't many).

In Wisconsin, teams have to finish .500 or better in league play to qualify for the state football playoffs. Upon completion of the season, the WIAA puts together a list of qualifying teams, which totals 224 schools (32 teams in each of seven divisions). Teams are placed in divisions based on their overall enrollment, then grouped in pods of eight teams each. The top four teams in each pod are seeded, with first-round matchups drawn up to minimize travel as much as possible.

This year, the process in Wisconsin was questioned as seriously as it's been in any year since it was implemented.

Messmer/Shorewood is a Milwaukee-area co-operative. Its players and supporters have dubbed it "Messwood." Thanks to the involvement of a lawyer, this whole situation is a mess.

The program left its conference, the Woodland, without approval from the WIAA in 2007. Such a move carries a four-year ban from postseason participation, as noted in WIAA bylaws. As a result, 2011 was to be Messmer/Shorewood's last year of playoff ineligibility.

The team posted a 4-2 record in the Midwest Classic North Conference, the league it left the Woodland to join. Such a record would normally be enough to gain playoff eligibility, but because Messmer/Shorewood was in its last year of the four-year ban, the WIAA chose to exclude the team from the playoffs.

However, Messmer/Shorewood argued that the rule's placement in the bylaws makes it look like it only applies to schools that leave a conference to become an independent, not schools that leave one conference to join another. As a result, Messmer/Shorewood sued the WIAA for playoff inclusion.

And won.

I'm not going to lie. There's a part of me that says "Good ... this will teach the WIAA to have sloppily-written bylaws." There's no excuse for an organization that oversees the number of athletes, coaches, and schools the WIAA does to have a rule that is this badly written.

However, I hate the message this sends. Messmer/Shorewood was fully aware of the punishment they faced for leaving the Woodland Conference. They decided to go anyway, feeling that the move was in the best interests of the program. The fact that they were able to turn things around and put together a competitive program in the new league validates that decision. But they did it knowing full well that they were facing a four-year postseason ban.

When they put together a nice season in the fourth year of that four-year ban, they looked at the rule, saw an opportunity, and sued.

Never mind that they agreed to the ban when they switched leagues. Never mind that they understood the intent of the rule and were just fine living by that rule. Never mind that the WIAA had to take a team out of the playoffs that thought they had made it, in order to include Messmer/Shorewood.

When opportunity knocks, sue. That's what we do in this country, I guess.

Easy to accept, but harder to understand, and even harder to like.

No comments: