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Football-only conference realignment plan causes plenty of discussion

By Rich Palzewic
Sports Editor

GREEN BAY – When change occurs, not everyone is pleased.

It’s safe to say that not all Wisconsin high school football coaches are happy with the recently announced football-only conference realignments that will go into effect beginning with the 2020 season.

“Everybody in the state was in a different scenario, so there will be some schools happy with it and others not,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman, whose team has gone undefeated in the Fox River Classic Conference for three straight years and won 27 conference games during that span. “For us, the conference we are going into will be far more competitive than in years past, so that’s good for Bay Port. Having said that, I don’t think it’s necessarily great for everyone in our conference. It makes it easier to schedule non-conference games now because everyone in the state is open weeks one and two.”

The biggest downfall Westerman sees is it’s a football-only realignment, so other sports will be playing against different competition.

Locally, the FRCC and Bay Conference will see significant changes.

The FRCC will have 14 teams and be broken into two divisions.

The Bay Conference, which currently has nine teams, will be reduced to seven and will lose current members Green Bay East, Green Bay West, Menasha and West De Pere.

Those four schools will join the FRCC.

The FRCC-1 Division will consist of Green Bay Preble (enrollment 2,184), Bay Port (1,894), De Pere (1,360), Green Bay Southwest (1,193), Pulaski (1,077), Ashwaubenon (992) and West De Pere (951).

The FRCC-2 Division will have teams Sheboygan North (1,801), Manitowoc (1,491), Sheboygan South (1,347), Green Bay East (1,261), Menasha (982), Green Bay West (848) and Notre Dame Academy (767).

In the FRCC, each team will play six conference games within its own division and one randomly-drawn crossover contest with the other division.

Combined with two non-conference games, the regular season will be nine weeks long as usual.

Westerman said his Pirates will play Middleton in week one and Notre Dame Academy in week two beginning in 2020.

The current realignment will be a two-year plan.

After that time, schools can appeal the existing plans.

“Notre Dame is not our randomly-drawn crossover game, but we both wanted to play one another anyway – it’ll be considered a non-conference game,” Westerman added. “Despite their smaller enrollment, it’s always a competitive game and is a good draw for both schools.”

West De Pere head coach Jack Batten is one of those coaches that doesn’t necessarily agree with and understand the rationale of the way the new conference was set up.

“According to what I was told, the decision was based on three things,” said Batten, whose team lost in the 2018 WIAA Division 3 State Championship game. “They looked at enrollment, proximity to other schools and competitive balance. It doesn’t appear that enrollment size was much of a factor.”

Batten explained the way they originally had it designed, his squad and De Pere would be in the FRCC-2 Division, while Green Bay East and Green Bay West would be placed in the FRCC-1.

“I was under the understanding that we were going with the original plan,” Batten said. “Between last summer and March 1 when they released the final conference, nobody talked to me, mentioned to me there would be a switch or brought the teams together. Looking back over the past five seasons including playoffs, if the conference would have been set up like originally planned, the winning percentage would have been 51 percent – you can’t get any more competitive than that. When they switched the teams to the way it is now, the FRCC-1 has a 68-percent winning percentage over the last five years, while the FRCC-1 has a 33-percent winning percentage. In effect, they created a stronger conference and a weaker one based on past performance. The data doesn’t support the theory they did it based on location or enrollment.”

Positively, Batten said the increased competition in the FRCC-1 will get his team sharper for the playoffs, but he has additional concerns

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s going to be hard for us to find four wins in this conference,” he said. “There are seven quality football teams in the division, and our crossover game is with Menasha, another quality team. I worry a little bit about the size of our school compared to others like Bay Port and Preble and what happens with injuries. There are some positives with the plan, and I know it was a state-wide process, but the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association didn’t do West De Pere any favors.”

Teams that have a conference winning percentage better than .500 are guaranteed a spot in the WIAA playoffs.

Teams that finish with a conference record of .500 are playoff eligible but not guaranteed a spot.

However, in most years, only a few teams that finish .500 do not make the playoffs, and several that were under .500 in conference play, have also squeaked in.

As Batten pointed out, teams must win four conference games in the new realignment to qualify for the postseason.

The Phantoms are in a more precarious situation when it comes to their non-conference schedule.

“We had two non-conference games scheduled with Seymour and Kaukauna, but both schools recently bowed out, and we are back to square one,” said Batten.

In Pulaski’s situation, the Red Raiders are in the bottom half of the FRCC-1 in terms of enrollment but have been competitive for years with their play on the field against larger schools.

“It wasn’t supposed to be about competitive balance, but I think that’s what it comes down to,” said Pulaski head coach Jerad Marsh. “I hope it satisfies most schools. In the first go-around, the divisions were much more even between the larger and smaller schools, but I think they got away from that in the final realignment.”

Pulaski will play Neenah and Brookfield Central for its two non-conference games beginning in 2020.

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