When Sun Prairie’s second high school, Sun Prairie West, opens its newly constructed doors in the fall of 2022, it will take half the enrollment away from the current Sun Prairie High School.
Last school year, Sun Prairie was the state’s largest high school with an attendance of 2,447. In the fall of 2022, when Sun Prairie East and Sun Prairie West debut, administrators predict each school will be home to 1,300 to 1,350 students.
That would move Sun Prairie from the largest member of the Big Eight Conference to the two smallest schools in the league, by a margin of about 20% behind the current smallest school, Madison La Follette.
And that’s why Monday morning the Sun Prairie Area School District officially proposed the two new schools leave the Big Eight for football, instead joining the Badger Large Conference in the fall of 2022.
“Taking our enrollment and splitting it between two schools, it will be difficult for both schools to compete in the Big Eight Conference for football,” the Sun Prairie letter read.
The Sun Prairie moves are just two proposed changes in a chain reaction of shifts that would affect six other high schools and seven conferences in 2022 if the Sun Prairie plan is approved by the WIAA:
The Janesville schools, Craig and Parker, would return to the Big Eight after two years in the Badger Large. Beloit Memorial would go from the Big Eight to the Southern Lakes. Madison Edgewood would jump from the Rock Valley to the Capitol. Delavan-Darien would shift from the Southern Lakes to the Rock Valley and Horicon/Hustisford would move from the Capitol to the South Central.
Barring COVID-19 problems, this fall is supposed to be the first season of the WIAA and Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s meticulously planned statewide football-only conference realignment, designed to leave every WIAA-member conference with eight or seven members.
The WIAA/WFCA’s overriding 2020 plan has about 18% of the state’s programs changing conferences for football only., including these moves involving conferences with area programs:
Janesville Craig and Parker, moving from the Big Eight to the Badger Large, joining Waunakee, Beaver Dam and DeForest from the Badger North and Watertown, Oregon and Milton of the Badger South.
- The new Badger Small, to include Baraboo, Mount Horeb/Barneveld, Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie and Portage of the Badger North and Monona Grove, Stoughton and Fort Atkinson of the Badger South.
- Monroe and Madison Edgewood, moving from the Badger South to the Rock Valley, joined by current members McFarland, Jefferson, East Troy, Whitewater, Evansville and Edgerton.
- Walworth Big Foot and Beloit Turner, moving from the Rock Valley to the Capitol, joining Lodi, Lake Mills, Watertown Luther Prep, Columbus and Lakeside Lutheran of the Capitol North and Horicon/Hustisford of the Trailways Large.
- The return of the Eastern Suburban Conference, involving Clinton of the Rock Valley, Marshall, Cambridge and Waterloo of the Badger South and Palmyra-Eagle, Markesan and Pardeeville of the Trailways Large.
- Poynette, moving from the Capitol North to the South Central, joining the Montello co-op, moving from the Trailways Large, and returning members Mauston, Adams-Friendship, Wisconsin Dells, Wautoma and Westfield.
- New Glarus/Monticello, moving from the Capitol South to the Southwest, joined by Brodhead/Juda, moving from the Rock Valley, and current members River Valley, Platteville, Dodgeville, Richland Center and Prairie du Chien.
- Belleville, moving from the Capitol South to the SWAL, joined by former Trailways Large member Orfordville Parkview/Albany and former Southwest Wisconsin member Lancaster, along with current members Fennimore, Cuba City, Darlington and Mineral Point.
- Deerfield, moving from the Trailways Small to the singular Trailways, joined by former members Fall River/Rio, Oshkosh Lourdes, Beaver Dam Wayland, Johnson Creek, Randolph and Cambria-Friesland and new member Delafield St. John’s NW.
Part of the WIAA plan is a provision that alignment can be altered in even-numbered years upon consideration of school and conference proposals based on geography, competitive balance, enrollment and number of sub-varsity levels offered.
Changes must be approved by April of the preceding, odd-numbered year. Many changes are expected in 2022 and 2024, in part because a number of smaller high schools are expected to shift their programs to eight-player football.
“While we understand change can sometimes be difficult, especially since we will only be two years into our current football-only realignment, we feel these changes are the best solutions for all schools, conferences, and most importantly, our student-athletes,” the Sun Prairie letter stated. “We have considered enrollments, competitive balance, travel and lower-level team offerings when putting together this proposal.”
The letter also states Sun Prairie has offered online Zoom meetings with athletic directors from all schools who would be impacted by the proposal, allowing them to provide feedback.
Notably, under the Sun Prairie proposal, Sun Prairie East and West would likely be the largest schools in the Badger Large, Edgewood would be the largest school in the Capitol and Beloit Memorial would be the largest school in the Southern Lakes.
The Sun Prairie proposal would appear to have a minimal impact on travel distances between conference opponents.
Meanwhile, Big Eight administrators are in the early stages of figuring out how to adjust to the addition of Sun Prairie West to the area high school landscape in 2022.
So far, all the Big Eight has done is to vote to allow Sun Prairie West into the league when it opens. Under the current alignment, that would put the Big Eight at an awkward number of 11 schools in many sports (not including football).
“Right now, we are planning schedules and procedures for the 11-team Big Eight Conference which will definitely occur for the 2022-2023 school year,” Madison Metropolitan School District athletic director Jeremy Schlitz wrote in an email.
“We potentially could look at realignment of that for the 2023-2024 school year, but (no discussion) has started on that yet at this time, as we prepare for the 11-team conference and understand the workings of it,” Schlitz wrote.
“I think the football realignment discussion will be helpful in informing area districts and seeing what potential all-sport solutions may be feasible. Non-football (sports are) much more flexible for number of schools and scheduling.”
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