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Jalen Johnson photo

Glendale Nicolet's Jalen Johnson soars over Milwaukee Washington's Michael Foster Jr. for a dunk in the WIAA Division 2 state boys basketball final in the Kohl Center last month. Nicolet earned a 67-52 victory.

STEVENS POINT — Worried about the formation of super teams, the WIAA proposed an amendment change restricting transfers who have a pre-existing athletic relationship with anyone in the new school the student was seeking to attend.

However, that residence eligibility amendment, the so-called “Nicolet Rule,” was rejected by WIAA members at the WIAA’s annual meeting Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Convention Center.

A total of 239 denied the proposed change, while 150 supported it.

The WIAA’s stated rationale was that “pre-existing relationships have become more common, creating super teams without regard to the existing student-athletes and school community.”

The issue came into a bright focus when Jalen Johnson, one of the nation’s top men’s basketball recruits, and his younger brother Kobe Johnson announced last summer that they were leaving Sun Prairie and transferring to Glendale Nicolet. Jalen Johnson and others on the Nicolet team played AAU basketball together.

Nicolet — led by the 6-foot-9 Johnson, who was named The Associated Press boys basketball player of the year — won the WIAA Division 2 state championship in March at the Kohl Center, defeating Milwaukee Washington in the title game.

At the annual meeting, eight minutes of discussion transpired before the vote was taken (though the topic had been discussed during caucuses at a recent Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association meeting).

Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow, addressing the 415 voting members and 476 representatives at Wednesday’s meeting, expressed concern about the language in the proposed change, saying clarification was needed for the phrase “pre-existing relationship.”

One reason for opposition was a lack of specificity in the language that would make enforcement difficult and create a potential minefield of problems for athletic directors unless the amendment’s language was narrowed.

The WIAA had hoped the proposed change, which the state of Michigan uses, would help schools with transfer questions.

WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki said the WIAA wanted to encourage education-based athletics and not club teams. He said he didn’t believe the proposed change was a “gotcha” rule.

The amendment’s defeat means current transfer eligibility rules remain in effect. The process with a newly written amendment would have to be re-started if the WIAA wishes to address the issue again.

The WIAA has a rule about recruiting student-athletes, but demonstrating proof that recruitment occurred and enforcement of the rule have been difficult.

Conference realignment

The WIAA Board of Control on Tuesday unanimously approved the football-only conference proposal that was crafted by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association.

The plan is to be implemented in the 2020 season. It gives uniformity to the number of schools affiliated with a conference and assures that programs have enough conference games to qualify for the playoffs.

Fifteen schools filed concerns or appeals of the initial vote by the April 10 deadline and were presented to the Board.

Monona Grove was one of those schools and is appealing to move from the proposed Badger Small Conference for football-only to the Badger Large Conference, Monona Grove athletic director Jeff Schreiner confirmed Wednesday.

Monona Grove, the largest school in the Badger Small with an enrollment of 1,049, wants to move into the Badger Large, with the smallest school in the Badger Large (DeForest, 1,051) moving to the Badger Small.

Since Monona Grove made the appeal now that is a move that can be proposed by the Badger Conference in the football-only realignment process for 2020. 

WIAA communications director Todd Clark said: "Any change from the football-only proposal passed (Tuesday) would still need to go through the realignment process but can be fast-tracked if all schools are in agreement.  Therefore, while the Badger Conference can propose a move, it still needs to go through the realignment process with the ultimate decision made by the Board of Control. If all schools impacted by the change are in approval, the change can be fast-tracked to the Board."

Otherwise, an application for football-only realignment must be made by Dec. 1, 2020, and could be implemented in 2022-23.

Monona Grove football coach Brandon Beckwith said generally he was satisfied with the football-only realignment: “They put a lot of time into it. I’m confident they worked hard to make the right decisions.”

After the Board of Control decision, WIAA executive director Dave Anderson described the process as an “enormous undertaking and a groundbreaking venture for the WIAA.”

“While I recognize that in the view of some members the result of this work was lacking from their school’s perspective, I do believe it has addressed both the immediate scheduling-related needs that have been repeatedly pointed to by members since 2009 when the district football plan was shelved and it has dovetailed perfectly into the work of the conference realignment task force,” Anderson said Wednesday.

Conference realignment task force

Madison Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz, the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association president until November, is the co-chairman of the 16-person conference realignment task force, which is examining realignment for conferences in all the other sports excluding football and creating a new process for realignment.

Schlitz said he believes the task force is taking an innovative approach in trying to ultimately give opportunities for student-athletes to participate. The task force is seeking to be transparent and communicative.

“How is it different?” Schlitz said. “It really focuses on making the person that wants relief to come up with the plan – to identify who is affected by that plan, to get feedback from them, from the original or new conferences. To understand the rationale behind the school that wants relief, but also to understand the rationale by those schools that are affected by it. You have to present a potential solution. Then what the committee is going to do is evaluate that solution.”

A detailed presentation of the new conference realignment process will be given at WIAA area meetings in September.

“This is our starting point. … I have high hopes for it,” Anderson said.

Dec. 1, 2019, will be the application due date for potential moves for all sports (except football), with possible implementation of new conferences in the 2021-22 school year.

Dec. 1, 2020, will be the application due date for all sports, with possible implementation in the 2022-23 school year.

Schlitz said Labecki and assistant director Stephanie Hauser helped bring the task force’s mission and process into focus.

“We’re ready,” Schlitz said.

Down the road, the Big Eight Conference (10 schools for all sports, eight for football-only) and area conferences likely will face a change because Sun Prairie recently approved building a second high school. Sun Prairie’s transition plans for varsity sports at two high schools are just in their initial stages, so any talk about how the Madison and suburban schools might be aligned in the future also is in its infancy.

Code of conduct

An amendment change preventing “a student who has been charged and/or convicted of a felony from competing until the student has satisfied all the requirements of the court” was supported by 335 and denied by 52.

The rationale behind the amendment was to provide a common rule statewide and to protect WIAA state tournaments. It did allow for immediate eligibility should charges be dropped or amended to a misdemeanor.

While there have been other examples, this topic came to the forefront during the 2018 boys basketball state tournament when Deontay Long played for Milwaukee Washington. Long had been convicted of a felony involving a robbery and was awaiting sentencing, but was given the OK by his school to play during the season. There was no WIAA rule to prevent him from playing.

Residence eligibility

An amendment passed 370 to 29 that provided unrestricted eligibility to transfer students who never participated in a tryout, practice, scrimmage or contest on a team sponsored by a school or club in a WIAA sport. 

State swimming update

WIAA assistant director Tom Shafranski said the WIAA hasn’t received a contract yet from the University of Wisconsin, so he remained uncertain whether the 2020 boys swimming state meet will stay at the UW Natatorium or move to the new Nicholas Recreation Center.

UW Rec Sports had indicated to the WIAA a January 2020 target date for opening the new facility, Shafranski said.

But the Natatorium will remain the site for another year if the new facility isn’t ready. A shift to the new site likely will result in schedule adjustments (starting times, days) for the meet.

Money matters

In 2017-18, these state tournaments made money (revenues vs. expenses), according to WIAA information – basketball ($2,058,208), football ($645,979), wrestling ($387,212), volleyball ($241,905), soccer ($118,097) and hockey ($51,679). Those running a deficit were track and field ($200,046), cross country ($115,607), softball ($96,642), tennis ($91,759), golf ($84,781), baseball ($63,999), swimming ($41,318) and gymnastics ($39,467).

Revenue from state tournaments totaled $7,935,842 and expenses totaled $5,166,381. The excess was $2,769,461.

The same state tournament sports made and lost money in 2016-17. 

Open forum

Topics that were brought up in the open forum portion of the meeting for potential discussion at fall area meetings included mega co-ops need to be broken up in girls hockey; the decision to break up mega co-ops in gymnastics needs to be revisited; the officials shortage needs to be addressed; the softball and baseball seasons should be started a week or two later due to inclement spring weather.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.