Statewide football realignment proposal shows big changes for Big Rivers, others
The WIAA’s proposal combines the Big Rivers and Valley Football Association, breaking up the Eau Claire schools from their traditional rivals.
STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WEAU) - Proposed conference realignment changes put forward by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Conference Realignment Task Force suggest significant impacts to western Wisconsin schools beginning with the 2024 season.
For starters, the Big Rivers and Valley Football Association would merge into two conferences, breaking up long-standing rivalries between both of Eau Claire’s public schools and familiar foes such as Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and Hudson under the 11-player football proposal for 2024-25.
The proposal, which is for football only, would also eliminate the Lakeland Conference as the state would contract from 49 football conferences to 48. The new conferences would be in effect for the 2024 and 2025 football seasons before the next round of biannual realignment in football for 2026.
One of the most significant changes statewide is the Big Rivers-Valley Football Association merger into two leagues. According to a document released by the WIAA, Eau Claire Memorial and Eau Claire North would join a new conference, the Big Rivers/VFA East, along with D.C. Everest, Marshfield, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln and Wausau West. The Big Rivers-VFA West would include Chippewa Falls, Hudson, Menomonie, New Richmond, Rice Lake, River Falls and Superior. Both leagues would play one mandated crossover game, East vs. West, for a seventh conference game to count towards playoff eligibility. The move would break up the state’s 8th-most played rivalry, Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire Memorial, according to data tracked by WisSports.net, which has been played 114 times. Chippewa Falls Activities Director Mike Thompson tweeted that the proposal would “drastically alter the Big Rivers Conference, which is rich in tradition and rivalries.”
For smaller schools in the Chippewa Valley, the Dunn-St. Croix and Heart O’ North conferences would get a makeover and play one another in a crossover game. The DSC would include Boyceville, Cadott, Colfax, Elmwood/Plum City, Spring Valley, Unity and Webster, while the Heart O’ North would split into two leagues, with the small division of the conference crossing over with the DSC and include Cameron, Chetek-Weyerhaeuser, Clear Lake, Glenwood City, Grantsburg, Ladysmith and Turtle Lake. The Cloverbelt, Dairyland and Mississippi Valley conferences would remain unchanged. Altoona would join the Middle Border Conference along with several western Wisconsin schools in one other change.
Former Lakeland Conference schools will be moved into the newly-configured Heart O’ North and Dunn-St. Croix leagues, with the Lakeland Conference no longer being a football conference, according to the proposal.
According to WisSports.net, 105 teams in 11-player football would change conferences under the proposal, with 12 more moving from 11-player to 8-player football. A total of 336 schools are slated to participate in 11-player football in 2024, with 224 teams making the playoffs. Another 67 programs would compete at the 8-player level.
A document posted by the WIAA shows that there will still be nine conferences in 8-player football, with western Wisconsin teams largely in five of them. Northwestern Wisconsin schools will be in the North Central East and North Central West conferences, which includes many former Lakeland Conference schools. Teams in the north-central part of the state, including schools in Rusk and Taylor counties, will be in the Northwoods East and Northwoods West conferences. Teams in the southwestern part of the state, including schools in Vernon and Crawford counties, will be in the Southwest Conference.
Schools affected by the realignment proposal will provide feedback at a January meeting with the WIAA, with a Task Force meeting scheduled for Jan. 12 to consider that feedback. The Jan. 12 meeting will also hear appeals from schools denied their submitted requests for realignment before the proposal was released publicly. If the Task Force does not approve the appeal, schools can still appeal directly to the WIAA at its Board of Control meeting on Feb. 1, with recommendations made, if necessary, back to the Task Force at its Feb. 9 meeting. Plans advanced out of those meetings will be made final on March 7 at the WIAA Board of Control meeting.
The WIAA conference realignment process flowchart is available on the Conference Realignment page on the WIAA website, as well as an explanation of the conference realignment process and the Conference Realignment Task Force.
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