The Badger Conference, following the lead of the Big Eight Conference, has decided league competitions won’t be held and conference champions won’t be crowned during the fall sports season amid concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The league made that decision because all its schools aren’t able to participate fully in conference contests during the currently scheduled fall dates, according to a statement that was sent to parents and coaches at some league schools. Copies of the statement were forwarded to the State Journal on Thursday.
The conference is providing the opportunity for the fall sports to potentially be held in the spring.
According to the statement: “The WIAA has said that schools which are unable to start fall sports in 2020, may have an opportunity in the spring to conduct their fall seasons. All schools will be supported in their local decisions and may have the option to schedule non-conference competitions in fall sports, so long as they follow the guidance of the WIAA and local public health officials.
“We understand the need to be flexible, adaptable, and use creative thinking as we move forward and appreciate the understanding of our school communities as we continue to work together to navigate the COVID-19 situation. Therefore, we are committed to offering opportunities to our students, assuming it is safe and allowable as determined by public health.”
Monona Grove athletic and activities director Jeff Schreiner, president of the Badger Conference athletic directors, on Wednesday and Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow earlier Thursday said superintendents were working through the conference’s position and so those two withheld comment. The formal statement is still scheduled to be announced Friday.
After seeing that the statement already was made public, Dow said Thursday night: “I think the decision is in line with our current situation with what is going on with the pandemic. Our restrictions in Dane County are prohibiting us from operating our programs in the way we are accustomed to. It’s unfortunate, extremely unfortunate. There’s nothing we can really do. It’s not feasible to do things in the way the conference has done in the past (with current gathering guidelines).”
The Badger Conference includes 16 schools and covers seven counties — Dane, Sauk, Rock, Green, Jefferson, Dodge and Columbia. Seven of the schools are in Dane County — Madison Edgewood, Monona Grove, Oregon, Stoughton, DeForest, Mount Horeb and Waunakee.
Dow said the impact of seven schools potentially not being able to compete made it difficult to hold conference competitions and championships.
He expected each league school to examine competing in the fall or the alternative spring season. Dow, who said he’d release the conference statement to Stoughton families at noon Friday, said he didn’t know Stoughton’s athletics plans for the school year yet, but he will work hard to provide opportunities for student-athletes.
Schreiner and Edgewood athletic director Chris Zwettler couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday night.
Badger Conference athletic directors had met Monday to discuss the fall sports season and decided to await more information about fall educational models from its conference schools and from schools around the state. At that time, they scheduled another meeting for this Monday.
The WIAA Board of Control announced a week ago it will hold a fall sports season, but that the start to the season will be delayed.
The Board of Control approved a plan for the 2020-21 school year to start seasons for girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving and boys and girls cross country on Aug. 17 (for practice) and 11-player and eight-player football, boys soccer and girls and boys volleyball on Sept. 7 (for practice).
The WIAA motion, which passed 8-3, also included language that would provide schools and conferences that cannot play in the fall — such as a majority of schools in the Big Eight and now schools in the Badger Conference — potential opportunity to play in the spring. The Big Eight was the first in the state to say it will not hold conference competitions or crown conference champions in the fall.
According to the WIAA, earliest dates for first competitions now will be Aug. 20 for girls golf; Aug. 21 for girls tennis; Aug. 25 for boys and girls cross country and for girls swimming and diving; Sept. 15 for boys soccer and girls and boys volleyball; and Sept. 23 for football (though most football games likely will be scheduled for Friday, Sept. 25).
Originally, football equipment was to be handed out Aug. 3 and the first practice Aug. 4.
The WIAA’s next Board of Control meeting is Aug. 14.
All of the practices permitted by the WIAA Board of Control last Thursday begin after that Aug. 14 meeting, so it’s conceivable there could be changes to schedules, pending further COVID-19 developments.
Decisions about whether schools will compete in fall sports appear to be up to local control and conferences — what local school districts decide about their respective school’s academic and athletics plans based on specific county health and safety guidelines. The various counties have different guidelines to follow.
That the Badger Conference has so many schools and counties involved makes decision-making complicated.
In the 2020-21 school year, the Badger Conference is scheduled to play all sports, not including football, in its current configuration.
For all sports, not including football, the Badger North in 2020-21 includes Baraboo, Beaver Dam, DeForest, Mount Horeb, Portage, Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie and Waunakee.
The Badger South includes Edgewood, Fort Atkinson, Milton, Monona Grove, Monroe, Oregon, Stoughton and Watertown.
For football in the fall, the Badger Large includes Janesville Craig, Janesville Parker, Watertown, Waunakee, Oregon, Milton, Beaver Dam and DeForest.
The Badger Small includes Monona Grove, Stoughton, Baraboo, Fort Atkinson, Mount Horeb/Barneveld, Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie and Portage.
When factoring in football, Mount Horeb/Barneveld in the Badger Small has schools in Dane and Iowa counties and Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker in the Badger Large are in Rock County.
Edgewood and Monroe, which is in Green County, are scheduled to play football in the Rock Valley this fall.
Here’s the statement from the Badger Conference:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly posed challenges for planning events of all types throughout our nation, state, and local communities. The goal of the Badger Conference, first and foremost, continues to be the health and safety of our school district communities. Regardless of the type of event, health and safety must come first.
“We have always viewed sports as an important component to the educational process. Participation in sports provides opportunities for developing and cultivating a variety of skills, such as communication, teamwork, discipline, leadership skills and respect for others.
“The Badger Conference supports the fact that education-based athletics is a privilege, not a right, which requires an added level of responsibility for those who administer them and serve as a partner in the education of student-athletes.
“While we look to guidance from a variety of sources, the ultimate source for school districts and athletics comes from local public health departments. Interestingly, the 16 schools of the Badger Conference must work with their local health department, (the conference spans seven different counties), each with their own guidelines.
“This means that plans will vary in different parts of the conference and state, depending on how the virus is spreading in the local area and the guidance from county health departments.
“Since all member schools are not able to participate fully in conference contests during the current fall season dates as scheduled, Badger Conference competitions will not be held and conference champions will not be named.
“The WIAA has said that schools which are unable to start fall sports in 2020, may have an opportunity in the spring to conduct their fall seasons. All schools will be supported in their local decisions and may have the option to schedule non-conference competitions in fall sports, so long as they follow the guidance of the WIAA and local public health officials.
“We understand the need to be flexible, adaptable, and use creative thinking as we move forward and appreciate the understanding of our school communities as we continue to work together to navigate the COVID-19 situation. Therefore, we are committed to offering opportunities to our students, assuming it is safe and allowable as determined by public health. We hope everyone remains safe and healthy. We will be back stronger than ever, when the time is right.”
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