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WIAA Classification Committee rejects all but one Tournament Performance Factor appeal

12/14/2023, 11:00am CST
By Travis Wilson

Wonewoc-Center girls volleyball had the only successful appeal of division elevation due to Tournament Performance Factor points

Last Wednesday the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association's Classification Committee heard appeals of fall sports teams that were elevated due to the first year of the Competitive Balance Plan, as well as teams that requested up or down for placement as part of the initiative.

WisSports.net has contacted all fall sports teams that met the six-point Tournament Performance Factor threshold for elevation to determine which schools appealed to the Classification Committee and the outcome of those appeals.

A total of 62 fall sports teams accumulated at least six points according to our calculations, though 22 of those were already in Division 1 and thus could not be elevated.

A full breakdown of points accumulated by teams, the teams that met the threshold for elevation, and which appealed can be found here.

Of the 40 teams that were eligible to appeal, 24 of them did so according to communications with WisSports.net. However, just one team's request was approved by the Classification Committee, the Wonewoc-Center girls volleyball team. The Wolves appealed being promoted from Division 4 to Division 3, but with the successful review, will instead remain in Division 4 next year.

Even that approval for Wonewoc-Center comes with a bit of an asterisk, as girls volleyball will move from four divisions to five next year. Wonewoc-Center competed in Division 4 previously, with state semi-final appearances in 2021 and 2022 followed by a D4 title this fall, racking up a total of eight points. This would result in promotion from Division 4 to Division 3. However, with an enrollment of just 115 students, one of the smallest sponsoring volleyball, the Wolves would have been placed in D5 normally. A bump to Division 3 would have been significant, and it appears the Classification Committee took that into account when approving Wonewoc-Center's appeal. It is uncertain if the appeal would have been granted had volleyball not expanded divisions.

WSN reached out to all 40 teams that were eligible to appeal their elevation over the last week, as the WIAA declined to provide information on which teams officially met the point threshold, which teams appealed their elevation, or the outcome of those appeals.

The WIAA also declined to provide information on which teams requested divisional placement up or down as the second part of the Competitive Balance Proposal, or the outcome of those appeals to the Classification Committee.

Presumably, besides the information shared with each school that appealed, the results of Tournament Performance Factor elevations and requests up or down are not shared with other schools in the Association.

WIAA Executive Director Stephanie Hauser indicated that the Association would engage with the membership at next year's Area Meetings to determine if or how Classification Committee appeals and results will be released.

This is a significant departure from other WIAA processes, including Conference Realignment, where the Association posts publicly on its website a database of all teams that have requested to move conferences, the outcome of all conference realignment decisions by both the Conference Realignment Task Force and the Board of Control. The WIAA also makes available the multitude of data provided by requesting schools, including rationale for moves, letters from other schools impacted by the requests, suggested alternative plans, and much more.

A significant number of coaches and athletic directors contacted by WisSports.net expressed frustration with the Classification Committee appeals process, including a lack of transparency, few details provided to schools whose appeals were denied, what is perceived as overly punitive results of the plan for cross country teams, and questions about the makeup of the committee itself.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as is often the case with high-profile decisions made by the WIAA, multiple coaches indicated they have discussed possible litigation against the WIAA or supported athletes and parents from their teams to pursue legal options.

Before we get into the concerns raised by coaches and admins, let's review the background on the competitive balance plan.

Competitive Balance Plan Background

After years of discussions and debates, the WIAA passed a competitive balance plan at April's Area Meeting that consisted of two main components. First, a Tournament Performance Factor that moves teams up a division based on previous success.

The second part of the plan allows all teams to request to move down or up a division, with certain factors they can base their appeal on to justify a change. 

The Tournament Performance Factor uses a points-based system to determine if teams will move up a division based on past success and is applied equally to public schools and private schools.

Points are awarded based upon the finish of the team in the tournament series. For bracketed sports, here are how points are assigned:

  • 4 points for winning a state title
  • 3 points for advancing to the championship game
  • 2 points for advancing to the state semifinal (final 4)
  • 1 point for advancing to the state quarterfinal, sectional final or Level 3 11-player FB, Level 2 8-player FB (final 8 teams).

Non-bracketed sports are slightly different and fully outlined here.

The sports of swimming & diving as well as track & field are not included in the Tournament Performance Factor and thus teams cannot move up or down in those sports based on postseason success. Also, the sports of girls wrestling, girls hockey, boys volleyball, and 8-player football are single-division sports and thus are not applicable currently either.

At the team level, those teams that accumulate six or more points in the previous three years will be placed up one division from their normal postseason classification. No team will be moved up more than one division per year. If a team is moved up under the Tournament Performance Factor and in future years their trailing three-year point total falls below six points, they will be moved back down, unless their enrollment places them in a higher division.

There will be an appeals process in place for those teams that would be impacted by the Tournament Performance Factor, with schools able to appeal to a Classification Committee based on the following factors:

  • Prior year out-of-building student percentage on rosters or historical movement of student athletes
  • Socioeconomics of the school's population (i.e. % of student body on Free and Reduced Lunch rate)
  • Demographics of the school's population
  • Competitive history and balance - non-success and success
  • Geography
  • School's enrollment trend
  • Student participation rate in WIAA-sponsored activities
  • Student enrollment factors (i.e. open enrollment, students from outside your school's location)

The appeal window for fall sports teams impacted by Tournament Performance Factor points as well as for schools to request up or down opened on November 1st and closed on December 1st. 

Questions arise from Classification Committee Denials

The WIAA sent notices to schools regarding the status of their appeal on Thursday, December 7th, one day after the Classification Committee met to review applications. A copy of the denial letter obtained by WisSports.net is available here, which provides a summary of the factors that schools can be use to justify their appeal, along with a blanket denial statement that provides no additional rationale or information as to the reason for the denial.

This lack of reasoning for why schools were denied was a source of frustration for a number of the coaches and athletic directors contacted by WSN.

"We only received a letter that says it was denied," said Rice Lake football coach Dan Hill. "No feedback or information pertaining to why. We clearly showed why we have no 'unfair competitive advantage' in all eight factors of the appeal process."

When asked for a response to coach and AD concerns about the limited amount of information in denial letters, WIAA Director of Communications Todd Clark replied, "The committee criteria to determine the decision by the Classification Committee regarding the appeal process followed the published guidelines for review and applied to each request."

Clark further referenced the eight factors that the Committee could consider when weighing appeals.

The makeup of the Classification Committee itself is a significant issue for several impacted schools.

The competitive balance plan that was presented for membership vote and ultimately implemented as Appendix N of the WIAA Senior Handbook states that the Classification Committee will consist of "15 members with a 3-year term/rotation appointed by WIAA staff. An effort will be made to diversify the Classification
Committee so that it is representative of the membership."

The Appendix further states:
    1 - Athletic Director from each WIAA district
    1 - Superintendent or Principal from each WIAA district
    1 - Conference Commissioner

However, the Classification Committee as listed on the WIAA website and confirmed by the WIAA features 19 members, who served on the Ad Hoc Committee that produced the competitive balance plan. There is not an Athletic Director from District 1 or District 5, while there are five members of the committee (four administrators plus one athletic director) from District 3. There is no representative from District 7 (southeast Wisconsin) as either an administrator or athletic director, nor is there a conference commissioner on the committee.

The full list of members on the Classification Committee can be found here.

"If it is confirmed the WIAA did not put this committee together correctly, it would be a violation of the Senior Handbook as voted by the membership, the committee is not valid, and all appeals need to be re-heard by the correct committee," said Prescott athletic director Andrew Caudill, whose girls golf team will move up to Division 1 after three consecutive Division 2 state titles.

Clark insisted the makeup of the Committee was not an issue.

"The members of the inaugural Classification Committee will serve a one-year, two-year or three-year term to cycle into the prescribed demographic and composition of the committee," said Clark. "The ad-hoc committee assembled to develop and implement the process is an appropriate jumping off point to initiate how the criteria is intended to be applied. Also, the actual language states 'An effort will be made to diversify…' This is not stated as an absolute requirement and taking into consideration how the first year of the cycle is using the original group."

CROSS COUNTRY COACHES STRONGLY CONDEMN IMPACTS IN THEIR SPORT


McDonell Central boys cross country will move up from D3 to D2 despite finishing no better than ninth at the state meet in the last three years

There are more than 420 schools that sponsor cross country, almost every one supporting both a boys and girls team. There are only three divisions of competition, however, with two team qualifiers from each sectional, for a total of 20 qualifiers in Division 1 and 16 teams in Divisions 2 and 3.

Like the sports of boys and girls golf plus gymnastics, the sectional champions in boys and girls cross country receive two Tournament Performance Factor points, regardless of how they finish at the state meet.

All state qualifiers receive at least one point, resulting in each division of cross country being eligible for a total of 27 to 31 total Tournament Performance Factor points, depending on how sectional champions do at the state meet. 

Conversely, bracketed sports such as football, basketball, and baseball receive just 15 total Tournament Performance Factor points per division.

Because Sectional Champions receive additional points regardless of state meet finish, a team like McDonell Central boys cross country, who has won three straight sectional titles, is being elevated following state meet finishes of 12th, 9th, and 9th.

Significantly, many cross country programs have a single head coach that oversees both the boys and girls team. With 12 schools now featuring boys and girls programs in different divisions, and thus different sectionals, as a result of Tournament Performance Factor elevation, cross country stakeholders are fearful of disruptions to how those coaches and programs will operate. Because of cross country bylaws, additional programs could be split divisions due to the elevation of other teams.

With a boys team heading to one sectional location and a girls team headed to another at the same time, that head coach will now have to choose one or the other to attend. At small schools, an assistant or parent volunteer would now have to attend the other sectional, where coaches have expressed concerns about communications from meet hosts, check-in procedures, course preview, and more. Travel expenses are also increased for those teams that have to attend two different sectional meets, and equipment such as tents, spike kits, and medical bags would not be available at both locations. 

Several coaches raised Title IX issues with a head coach potentially choosing to go to a boys sectional as opposed to a girls sectional meet.

The WIAA's Todd Clark was succinct in his rebuttal of the concerns around the sport of cross country.

"The points assigned to each sport based on advancement in the Tournament in each specific sport was reviewed by the Competitive Balance Committee, communicated to the membership and approved by the membership by a 265-115 vote at the 2023 Annual Meeting."

What's next?

Currently, we only know the full impacts of the Tournament Performance Factor points on fall sports teams. Many more programs will be impacted once winter and spring seasons are complete and points are added up.

With 62 total teams already meeting the elevation threshold and 23 denied appeals, it is unclear how many more will be added to those tallies.

Also uncertain is how many teams have already requested up or down, and how many winter or spring sports teams may submit requests.

Once the WIAA releases tournament assignments for each season we will compare enrollments with actual divisional placements to determine which teams moved up or down and publish those results, though we won't know what schools may have been denied. Fall sports assignments for next year are expected to be released some time in late winter or early spring of 2024.

The only way to change the competitive balance plan, including which sports it applies to, how many points are assigned in each sport, or any other parts of the classification system is through the WIAA's constitutional process. It is not expected that the WIAA will seek any immediate changes, preferring to gather data and information on the impacts of the plan, with Todd Clark from the WIAA indicating the Association will review the competitive balance issue annually.

Member schools could initiate changes through the petition process, which would require at least 10% of member schools to sign a petition in support, which would then place such a proposal on the Annual Meeting agenda for a full vote by the membership.

Several coaches contacted by WSN indicated they support litigation against the WIAA, or have encouraged parents or student-athletes to sue the Association. Threats of lawsuits are nothing new to the WIAA and it isn't certain any school, parent, or group would go that route, but discussions have been had about the possibility of legal measures.

The WIAA declined comment about the potential for litigation regarding the Classification Committee's decisions or the competitive balance plan.


About the Author

Travis Wilson serves as the WisSports.net General Manager, Football Editor, and contributing writer for other parts of the site. Wilson was selected as part of the Sports 40 Under 40 list by Coach & AD Magazine and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association for 2019. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) named Travis the 2015 recipient of the Dave McClain Distinguished Service Award. He currently serves on the WFCA Executive Board as the Website and Communications Director and is a member of the Executive Board of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. A graduate of Richland Center High School and Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Travis was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, basketball) and currently resides in Reedsburg. You can follow him on Twitter at @travisWSN.

For the latest and most up to date football news and recruiting information, follow Travis on Twitter @travisWSN. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Travis at travis(at)wissports.net.

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