As anyone who followed the WIAA football playoffs last season knows, the postseason got off to a rather bumpy start, with lawsuits, delays, and a significant amount of uncertainty.
There is a chance we could be headed for a similar situation in 2012.
As was well-documented last year, the Messmer/Shorewood co-op was thought to be ineligible for the postseason after withdrawing from the Woodland Conference following the 2007 season, which normally results in a four-year postseason ban. However, the program filed a lawsuit after an appeal to the WIAA Board of Control was denied, and a Milwaukee judge ultimately ordered the team eligible for the postseason
due to the wording and formatting of the rule as was written in the WIAA Playoff Procedures.
Fast forward to April of this year and the WIAA amended its constitution and the wording of that rule on the Playoff Procedures to prevent such a situation from happening again.
However, there is another school that is facing a nearly identical situation this season.
Rhinelander withdrew from the Wisconsin Valley Conference following the 2008 season and was therefore deemed ineligible for the postseason for a period of four years per the old Playoff Procedures. They joined the Great Northern Conference following the 2009 season after a year as an independent.
Rhinelander has not been in a position to qualify for the playoffs prior to this year, but sit at 2-2 in league play with a pair of conference games remaining. Should they win one of their upcoming games against either Merrill or Medford, they would be guaranteed a .500 conference record, which normally makes a team eligible for the WIAA playoffs.
Based on the judge's decision in the Messmer/Shorewood case last season, Rhinelander Athletic Director Charlie LaHam told WisSports.net today that he will file an appeal with the WIAA to allow his team to be eligible for the playoffs.
The school would seem to have a valid argument, as the rules as written when they were ruled ineligible for the playoffs are the same as the rules that a judge based his decision on to allow Messmer/Shorewood into the postseason. While the WIAA changed the rules after the fact, would Rhinelander fall under the old regulations or the new ones?
The initial appeal would go to WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson. If he denied it, LaHam would then appeal to the WIAA Board of Control.
It was following the Board of Control's denial of their appeal last year that Messmer/Shorewood filed their lawsuit in court.
Would Rhinelander follow a similar path if all appeals to the WIAA were denied?
“I do not see us pursing that option based on the philosophy and feelings of our School Board and Superintendent,” LaHam said, but it remains an option on the table.
“I don't want it to come to anything like that but at the same time I need to do what is best for our students.”
One of the factors that could limit the ability and willingness to pursue legal options is the cost involved. According to Jeremy Mayo of The Northwoods River News, the Rhinelander district is facing a potential $3 million budget shortfall for the 2013-14 school year.
While it may be unlikely that Rhinelander gets a win in tough games against Merrill or Medford, who have a combined 8-4 record on the year, an upset victory could once again throw the end of the high school football regular season and the beginning of the WIAA playoffs into disarray.