This story has been updated from the print version.
MONROE — While the Cheesemakers are planning to make the switch to the Rock Valley Conference from the Badger this school year, one thing is for certain: There will be no fall sports in 2020.
Days after the School District of Monroe Board of Education unanimously approved its request to the Rock Valley Conference for membership for the upcoming school year, the RVC approved the measure unanimously.
However, not all Ts are crossed, nor I’s dotted just yet.
As of Aug. 1, neither the WIAA or the Badger Conference had received a notice or a request to leave by Monroe. However, upon hearing about Monroe's potential move, the WIAA alerted the district its move was denied because it was not informed properly and the bylaws for conference realignment were not followed.
"We argued that because of the shifting seasons, the rational is different" for making such a move, Monroe District Administrator Rick Waski said Aug. 4. Monroe's legal counsel is currently engaged in the matter, and Waski said he hopes the topic will be brought to the WIAA Board of Control for a decision at its next meeting Aug. 14.
Monroe’s pending move would be just for the 2020-21 school year. Football was already set to switch with the statewide conference realignment that begins this fall. Sports such as girls swimming and hockey would stay in the Badger, because the Rock Valley does not sponsor those sports.
By switching to the Rock Valley, Waski sees three major benefits for Monroe. With the school already switching fall sports to spring, it aligns perfectly with the RVC, and in doing so, there is more consistency and less potential overlap of certain sports. That means there will be an ease of scheduling, instead of worrying about finding competition dates across various conferences with schools in up to seven different counties, like the Badger currently has.
There's also a matter of public health.
"We would be competing in communities with less COVID-19 spread than Dane County," Waski said.
Only one school in the Rock Valley (McFarland) falls in Dane County, while eight of 16 Badger Conference schools do. Currently, Dane County has strict restrictions on group gatherings with an unknown end date — which could potentially run into the winter sports season — that makes scheduling sports difficult.
"I have a feeling winter sports will be affected by COVID-19 — not canceled, but affected," Waski said. "What does it hurt the WIAA to say 'Yes'? What harm is it to say, 'Yes, we're in a pandemic'" and that there should be some flexibility of the bylaws.
Both the Rock Valley and Badger Conferences announced July 31 that they would push fall sports to early spring. That means that Monroe and Brodhead will not have student-athlete participation in any conference this fall.
The Rock Valley plans to begin fall sports right after winter sports conclude in March, with spring sports opening as the fall sports ends in May. The conference is also allowing for all three sports seasons to be adjusted — and possibly trimmed in total length.
“It is the goal of the Rock Valley Conference to continue to work with our schools, communities, the WIAA and our local health departments to provide a safe and healthy environment for all season sporting opportunities,” conference administration, commissioner and athletic directors said in a joint statement July 31.
The WIAA lists girls swimming in the “low risk” category of possible spread of COVID-19, the pandemic that has rocked the sports world since March. However, the Badger Conference’s announcement July 31 of postponing all fall sports means swimming will have to wait until the spring.
“Since all member schools are not able to participate fully in conference contests … Badger Conference competitions will not be held and conference champions will not be named,” the statement read.
The Badger Conference is home to 16 schools in seven different counties — with each county having different COVID-19 protocols in place. The WIAA is allowing individual school districts to make their own decisions individually on fall sports — whether to find nonconference games or push to the spring. The Badger Conference said it would support local decisions of its members when it comes to fall sports.
“We understand the need to be flexible, adaptable and use creative thinking as we move forward and appreciate the understanding of our school communities” while navigating COVID-19, the statement added.
In Dane County, the lockdown order has forced schools to open the year with virtual learning and making athletic competitions all but impossible to hold. Some non-Dane County schools are electing to proceed with some form of fall sports, however, like Portage, Sauk Prairie and Reedsburg.
Monroe’s goal in switching to the RVC was simple: Only one of the current 10 schools in the conference resides in Dane County, and all of the other towns have lower COVID-19 case numbers. This would mean that any continuance of lockdown orders wouldn’t impede the scheduling when it comes time for the winter sports season to begin.
Monroe would be able to play schools like Brodhead, Evansville and Beloit Turner — a closer drive than many Badger Conference schools — and games would have a higher probability of being played.
There's a chance that Monroe plays out the school year without a conference (except for football), scrambling to fill its schedule and not having the chance for athletes to earn all-conference accolades. But that thought is far from the minds of Waski and the school district, who are simply trying to find the simplest, most efficient way to provide consistent competition for Monroe's student-athletes.
"This is not about politics. It's about getting our kids an opportunity to play in this crazy year. It's a different situation," Waski said. Monroe moving to the Rock Valley was "mutually agreeable" between the parties, a unanimous match.
"It's a short-term solution, so it doesn't really matter beyond this year," Waski said.