Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.
To organize, develop and control an interscholastic athletic program that will promote the ideals of its membership and the opportunities for member schools' participation. That is taken from the mission statement of the WIAA.
Intent and interpretation don’t always mesh when organizations vaguely describe their mission. Does the WIAA provide organization? Absolutely, and if the right football programs aren’t finding their way to Madison, changes come swiftly. Do they assume control? Their hands on management is in my opinion inconsistent. They have a pretty sharp legal team that steers them away from those issues that can be problematic and when the regulation is too challenging, they tend to extinguish it. Summer contact, regulating co-ops and off-season equipment are some examples. Other regulations like the hockey team disqualification rule and expanding the boy’s tournament to twelve teams have been shut down despite continuous recommendations from the Hockey Advisory Committee.
That brings us to develop, promote and providing opportunities for member schools’ participation.
It is well documented that change within the WIAA empire is slow and painful when it comes to hockey. While hockey is often sent to the waiting room, other sports are admitted to the emergency room. When football participation numbers began to crash the WIAA followed the advice of the Football Advisory Committee and quickly re-instated eight-man football in 2012. In 2018 they added a state tournament. As the number of girls hockey teams decline it would seem a solution should be a priority. The early returns of new hockey administrator LeVar Ridgeway have been encouraging and positive. Any recommendations from the Hockey Advisory Committee should be seriously considered and if not, why do they exist?
The original intent of co-op programs is not working. They are not spawning new programs as planned but are instead adding more schools to build a state tournament viable roster. Schools are being acquired like a major corporation engaging in a hostile stock takeover. It is the same formula that was responsible for declining team numbers on the boy’s side as co-op programs grew larger. Two boy’s divisions have now encouraged co-ops to re-evaluate their situation. Spooner’s decision to exit the Northwest Iceman’s co-op is hopefully just the beginning of a movement back toward single school programs. I believe that same framework would benefit the girl’s side of the equation. Programs are much more likely to grow in an environment where they are competitive and that is exactly what a two-class system provides. That is a design that would increase individual participation numbers and I believe provide the incentive for schools to build their own stand-alone programs.
The WIAA generally seems disinterested in addressing the co-op situation and the proposals I have seen put forth would completely destroy girl’s hockey. Quantifying co-ops by enrollment, or the number of schools involved is a misleading and an inaccurate method. If you add a school of 1,200, but only get one player, that is a pretty poor return on your investment. Programs should be judged on the number of players they have on their roster participating. That is the number that really matters. Instead of eight-man football maybe we have roster size regulations that dictate divisions.
Are we more interested in adhering to some contrived WIAA team ratio equation or trying to grow the game into something bigger and better? Boys’ hockey started in 1971 with nine schools, girls in 2002 with six schools. Let’s disregard the math and create a better competitive balance and put girl’s hockey on a road that provides a realistic championship incentive for all. The current hopelessness some teams experience has never been an outcome I hoped the athletic experience would provide. This is not an everyone gets a trophy mentality; this is an everyone believes there is a path to the state tournament mindset. After all, hasn’t Ted Lasso taught all of us the power of “believe”?
The recent article by Matt Carey was a fantastic overview of the boy’s climate and many of the exact solutions the coaches have been seeking for years. Despite the tired mantra of ridged similarity in all WIAA sports, the truth is it has never existed and shouldn’t be a deciding factor. Every sport is different in more ways than they are the same.
Hockey, in itself, has many barriers that other sports don’t incur. Whether it is the financial investment in equipment, or cost of ice time (something baseball, football and basketball don’t have to deal with) or the inherent difficulty in learning to skate versus learning to run and jump, these are obstacles other sports don’t face. They all contribute to a smaller pool of athletes to draw from and that translates to smaller teams at the high school level.
Exactly like the boys, but on a smaller scale, the separation in competitive balance in girl’s hockey is significant. In the 316 girl’s regular season games just completed, 26.5% of them were decided by a margin of five or more goals. One of every four games played was not competitive. While building a competitive schedule can be accomplished, it also leaves many schools feeling quite forlorn facing the “evil empires”. They see the solution as getting bigger, combining with other schools, creating more and larger co-op programs, not getting smaller and returning to a single school program.
If the WIAA is truly concerned with the dwindling number of girl’s hockey programs, they will consider solutions that could facilitate growth. I don’t think it is any more complicated than that. In just three years the Division Two boy’s tournament has seen five small schools make their first ever state appearance (Baldwin/Woodville, Oregon, Lakeland, Somerset, and Springs) and brought back Northland Pines after nearly twenty years and Menomonie after a thirty-one year absence.
The two divisions have invigorated the stand-alone hockey programs. It provides a credible path to the state tournament for those small schools. It will also help self-correct the mega co-op issue and establish a landscape of competitive balance in the two divisions. Now bring eight Division I teams to state and the boy’s tournament will flourish.
Two divisions was a solution the boys Advisory Committee had been proposing for over twenty years. Turns out it was the right answer all along. It is time to complete the mission, because if it takes twenty years to get the girls there, it might just be too late.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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