Conference realignment is always a great debate in the state. Most recently the talks revolve around football and some of the conferences in the northern and central part of the state. Recently there was a bit of a shake-up in the Madison area when Verona joined the Big 8.
Why stop there.
Waunakee has established themselves as a very competitive division 1 school in many sports. In fact, by the time the baseball tourney ends on Thursday Waunakee will wrap up a top 25 finish in the WSN Cup, which factors in success across all sports a school participates in.
Enrollment wise, they would be on the low end of the totem pole, with currently only 1125 students. However there enrollment has increased in each of the past 5 years and it seems like there is a new subdivision going up in the neighborhood every time I drive though.
I believe their dedication to athletics, as further reinforced by their success on the state tournament level, is more than enough to make up for this enrollment gap.
So, by now you ve noticed the title of the article and are thinking, wait, adding Waunakee would give the Big 8 eleven schools, not eight.
Well, that s when things get interesting. Take a look at this map
As you can see there is a grouping of three and a grouping of 7. Hence, I would propose moving Beloit and the two Janesville schools out of the Big 8.
This would lead to a Big 8 comprised of the four Madison city schools (East, West, La Follette, Memorial) and the four largest suburb schools (Sun Prairie, Verona, Middleton, Waunakee). All of which are within 20 minutes of each other. As a high school sports fan and a Madison area resident I think this makes the games more fun and the competition fierce.
You wouldn t put West Bend in a conference with Waukesha schools. Why would you put Janesville and Beloit in a conference 40-50 miles away if there are other alternatives for that conference?
The obvious downside is the rivalries between the schools that have built up over the years but they ll still see each other in non-conference contests and state tournaments.
So the second question is where do Janesville Craig, Janesville Parker and Beloit go?
The answer: A revamped Southern Lakes conference. The conference would look something like this:
Janesville Parker (1782)
Janesville Craig (1664)
Burlington (1464) (transplant from Southeast conference)
Lake Geneva Badger (1369)
Westosha Central (1215)
The longest treks in this new conference would be, as a reference Beloit to Madison is 53 miles:
Janesville to Wilmot – 57.6 miles
Beloit to Westosha Central – 56 miles
Waterford to Janesville – 52 miles
The two former Southern Lakes members - Union Grove (771) & Delevan-Darien (866) – would be moved to the Rock Valley. The Southeast conference would become a 9 team league instead of 10.
There are some ways that this idea could blow up in my face.
1) If Waunakee decreased in enrollment or their athletic programs struggled in the Big 8
2) If the Janesvilles / Beloit dominated the new Southern Lakes
3) If Elkhorn, Waterford or Wilmot severely decreased in enrollment.
But as mentioned earlier, if you take a look at state tournament success you would find that it seems pretty even over the last couple of years. In regards to enrollment, that is something that would take a bit of research but I think a lot of my assumptions are correct. Plus on the other side of the spectrum, with some of the recent developments in the employment landscape of Beloit and Janesville, they may see a enrollment decrease which would make my idea stronger.
Ok, so by this point, at the very least, I have Janesville fans and Beloit fans upset at me. Waunakee folks might not be too crazy about it either. But the debates are what makes sports great.