Friday's regularly-scheduled WIAA Board of Control meeting comes at a pivotal time in the calendar. With the Big Ten, PAC-12, and other college conferences, including every Division 2 and Division 3 institution in Wisconsin, postponing fall sports until perhaps the spring, pressure now mounts on school administrators as to whether they will stick with competing this fall or opt for the WIAA's proposed spring schedule.
One of the central questions hoping to be answered during Friday's Board of Control meeting will be what a spring season would look like for high schools pursuing that setup, which includes, at the moment, mostly schools in and around Dane County. Also factors in that decision will be how other sports seasons will be impacted, the availability of facilities, officials, and staffing, and whether the state would essentially split into two factions of traditional sports seasons and modified sports seasons.
In a copy of the agenda obtained by iHeartMedia, the Board of Control has its usual normal business to conduct, but will also have plenty of discussion regarding fall sports, their viability, a spring option, and various proposals to schedules being held this fall or on a modified calendar. Going into the meeting, fall sports are set to begin statewide on Monday, August 17 with what are considered lower-risk sports, including cross country, girls golf, girls tennis, and girls swimming, while higher-risk sports, including volleyball, boys soccer, and football, will begin practice on Labor Day (or the day after if district rules prevent any school activity on a federal holiday).
After some procedural agenda items and other details are presented, as noted below, action on fall sports begins at the midway point of the agenda as part of the COVID-related accommodations section of the meeting. Perhaps the first great consideration on the table is scheduling relief for schools that leave their conference in 2020-21. The best example in this scenario Monroe, a member of the Badger Conference, announced in a release that they were seeking to join the Rock Valley Conference for this season only for schedule relief in all sports amidst the pandemic, which drew a number of questions considering that conference realignment is a process that takes years to complete. Another item is the consideration of co-ops due to the pandemic, in which some schools, such as Benton-Scales Mound-Shullsburg and Black Hawk-Warren in football, lose their Illinois counterparts due to the IHSA's decision to postpone football until the spring.
The very next item on the list is grouping teams by region - for football, four-team groups, and in other sports, eight-team groups. This is likely to be discussed as a measure to allow some form of competition in lieu of, say, a traditional conference season or tournament, but the agenda doesn't note specifically the action taken here.
A date for the calendar potentially will be September 1. That has been widely reported to be the deadline for schools to declare whether they are following a traditional, altered, or blended season, which will offer clarity for member schools as a path forward. Also on the docket, as discussed in the emergency July session, was the potential establishment of a one-month notice by the WIAA for what they are calling a "culminating event" - essentially, a form of closure that may not be a true state tournament.
Season-related notes include removing the minimum number of competitions required to be a part of a WIAA-sanctioned culminating event, the definition of a season, and having games post-event if seasons are significantly shortened, allowing for more competitive opportunities. Game-related notes include a waiver to do away with extra quarters, periods, or innings and a strong discouragement of any interstate competition, as well as discouraging multi-team events.
These items will all help shape fall sports guidelines, which will be discussed before the next big item up for discussion and action.
What many are wondering is what the sports season will look like. Will football be played this fall? The WIAA is set to discuss over a half-dozen options as alternatives to the current schedule, some of which involve postponing fall sports to the spring, or even in one proposal, to be played after the spring sports are completed.
The breakdown of listed considered proposals includes several second-semester modifications, an alternate fall season with winter and spring seasons reduced, the CESA 3/Southwestern Wisconsin proposal that moves fall sports to the spring with overlap between fall and spring sports, to delay fall sports to be played until after spring sports are completed (all seasons would be shortened), or to proceed as currently scheduled.
Notable case studies in the Midwest, which the WIAA cited in the last Board of Control meeting as being significant data points for consideration for what the WIAA may decide to do moving forward, include Minnesota and Illinois, which opted to move to a four-seasons schedule with reduced, non-overlapping sessions for fall, winter, fall-to-spring, and spring sports. That group of data points also includes states like Iowa, which is following a traditional schedule, as are schools in the South.
In the earlier stages of the meetings, the WIAA will also go through its financial statements, which have been a source of interest for keen observers of high school sports only because the pandemic has had drastic effects on college athletic departments, as well as sports franchises, including the University of Wisconsin, and so far the WIAA has only revealed during past meetings that they are "fine for now" financially.
Other items on the agenda include a fast-track realignment for a soccer program in eastern Wisconsin, approval of a cross country team in central Wisconsin to compete in an event in Minnesota, liaison and director reports for various areas of education-based athletics and the WIAA, a review of handbook and reference guides for media, officials, and advisory committees, and other normal processes for the Board of Control.
Not on the agenda is the availability of University of Wisconsin facilities for currently-scheduled fall sports championships. UW has not indicated they will not host these events, and the WIAA has not reached the stage of approaching the availability of those faciltiies.
The WIAA Board of Control meeting begins at 8 a.m. and can be viewed by anyone on YouTube. You can click here to view the meeting once it begins Friday morning.