For the first time in WIAA boys hockey history, the teams will split into two divisions and two state champs will be crowned on March 7, 2020.
Last week, the WIAA released boys hockey assignments for what will be a two-year experiment, with 51 teams beginning play in Division 1, while 32 squads will challenge in Division 2.
According to WIAA assistant director Tom Shafranski, responsible for administration of the sport of hockey, the 'bottom' 32 teams were set by school enrollment.
"The 32 teams in D2 were determined by school administrators because that is the minimum that provides a full bracket," noted Shafranski.
There were a quartet of notable teams that could have 'opted up' to D1 or to stay in D2: Madison Edgewood, Superior, University School, and Notre Dame.
Of those four, only Superior elected not to opt up to the upper division.
"Any WIAA school team has the option to opt up in each sport," said Shafranski. "In this case, Superior chose not to for the 2020 WIAA Boy’s Hockey Tournament series."
Defending state champion University School coach Jason Woods says opting up was the 'obvious choice' for their program.
"First, we feel confident that our program belongs playing at the highest level allowable," Woods said. "We pride ourselves on seeking out and competing well against the toughest and highest level of competition. Second, it was very apparent from the get go that there was a strong desire from our Alumni to opt up."
Madison Edgewood coach Pete Rothering thought D1 was a 'better fit competitively.'
"We work hard to schedule as tough a schedule as we can every year to expose our kids to the best competition we can. Of course winning at that level isn't easy but I don't think winning championships is supposed to be easy."
Notre Dame Academy used feedback from alumni, current players, staff, and administration.
Coach Cory McCracken said, "We made a decision that we felt was in line with the competitive makeup of our program. This decision has way more depth to it than just competing for a state championship; future scheduling, non-conference scheduling, player development and other pieces all factor in."
In previous years, the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association (WHCA) had lobbied with the WIAA in hopes of getting two division play, but the plan was for eight teams in D1 and four in D2.
Instead they got 'four and four' from the WIAA, at least for the next two seasons.
"With two boy’s divisions now in place and one girl’s division, this becomes a logistical issue," stated Shafranski. "On Thursday and Friday, two sessions with two games per day is the maximum number of sessions and games we can fit into the State Hockey tournament."
How about having the boy's and girl's tournaments separate, at different facilities?
"Title IX equity issues and the lack of another suitable facility prevent splitting up the tournament," Shafranski noted. "Common violations in Title IX court cases and Office of Civil Rights settlement agreements specifically identify differences between the facilities provided to girl’s program as compared to the boy’s program."
LaBahn Arena in Madison, home of the UW women's team, has a capacity of almost 2,300 and would be large enough for the girl's tournament.
Another alternative is to hold the boy's and girl's tourneys on back-to-back weekends at the Clamshell (Alliant Energy Center).
A third option, although one that is a little bit of a 'blue sky' idea, is to convince the owner/developer of the 'Just a Game' franchise in Wisconsin Dells to add another one for hockey. A 5,000 seat arena with two or three sheets would not only be acceptable for the state tournament series, but could host other events, like WAHA tournaments, Central District events, and perhaps even USA Hockey Nationals.
There is plenty of room south of town and a huge site could provide plenty of parking. Plus, the Dells could use the hotel traffic in the winter time.
See? A 'win/win' for all involved.