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Prep sports: Why the WIAA is studying the competitive balance topic again

"The membership has made it very clear that they want competitive balance defined and if and what the solution should be," WIAA associate director Mel Dow said.

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WIAA executive director Stephanie Hauser and her staff have continued to hear from member schools that competitive balance remains a concern that member schools want studied.

That's why the WIAA formed a competitive balance ad hoc committee last year, named the committee's members in November and began meetings to study competitive balance among member schools and recommend solutions.

The committee met again Jan. 6 at the organization's headquarters in Stevens Point and Jan. 18 virtually to develop its purpose and operating principles.

"We are making really good strides on that," Hauser said in a recent interview at the WIAA office.

After the Jan. 18 meeting, the committee stated it's purpose is to "thoughtfully and intentionally research the association's ability to conduct tournament series in which all members feel their school has an opportunity to be competitive; and based on this research, the committee will recommend option(s) to the (WIAA) Board of Control to help ensure all members feel their school has an opportunity to be competitive."

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"The membership has made it very clear that they want competitive balance defined and if and what the solution should be," WIAA associate director Mel Dow said.

The committee's objectives, according to a WIAA release, include analyzing data and other information to determine if there is a problem with the current playoff structure; keeping the student-athlete's well-being at the center of the discussions; sharing information and evidence through the process with the stakeholders along with the explanation of the decisions; providing a possible solution or solutions to the competitive balance topic to the WIAA Board of Control and membership; and adhering to a communications plan.

"It began when the private schools joined the public schools, there was the real or perceived notion that private schools have an unfair advantage," Hauser said. "Then in 2014 that committee was established to study it. What they found is now with open enrollment, it's really not a private-public debate any longer. It's really grown from that.

"It's more of an access to kids, access to coaches, access to club opportunities. It is many more factors than I think people thought was once a simple issue — this is private vs. public. Most of our membership will tell you that's not what it's about anymore."

This is the second time a committee is reviewing competitive balance.

The first committee met five times from July to November in 2014. The committee was tasked with studying competitive balance/equity and to evaluate the existing procedure of the postseason tournaments and recommend a solution.

According to the WIAA, that committee established criteria to assess potential solutions, including applying criteria to specific sports; addressed schools in rural-urban areas; and applied a universal application for all member schools.

Solutions researched included a multiplier of 1.65 to private school enrollments, a reducer plan based on percentage of students on free-and-reduced lunch and a success factor based on advancement in previous tournaments.

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The success factor was advanced for a membership vote. The membership, however, voted to strike down that recommendation at the 2015 annual meeting. It was replaced by an amendment for the 1.65 multiplier, which was rejected on a vote of 141-293. A second amendment was introduced to implement the reducer plan, but that also failed 167-265.

The next year, the committee's success factor recommendation was reintroduced and advanced by the Board of Control to the annual meeting. It was voted down 198-221.

"We think what we have is still the most fair way to do things, which is simply based on geography or enrollment," Hauser said.

But she said the membership wanted to study the matter again, adding the committee will thoroughly investigate the complicated subject.

"There is a whole list now of factors," Hauser said. "The big question: is there a solution to address it? Is there? That's the big question. If there were, someone already would have discovered it. The last time there was a vote, the success factor failed, but it almost was a 50-50 split. That tells me about half of our membership thinks we need to do something.

"So, I think it's really important the committee is meeting because we will communicate with the membership throughout the process to let the membership know what is happening, to let them know where it is going, to tell them what data we are looking at, to get input, and then, ultimately, if something comes forward in the form of an amendment, I think our membership will feel they were really well informed and they will vote 'Yes' or 'No.' "

The committee plans to provide a report to the Board of Control in March and to the membership in April, she said. It might include a proposal or amendment, but the committee isn't promising that, she said.

In November, the Board of Control named 20 individuals to the committee, including Madison Edgewood athletic director Chris Zwettler.

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The WIAA said the committee wants to work as transparently as possible, including offering a feedback form for administrators on the competitive balance homepage on the WIAA website.

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