With the announcement that New Richmond will likely be moving to the Big Rivers Conference in football in 2020, this may be the start of an eventual movement of New Richmond athletic programs into the BRC.
While there is currently no proposal to move New Richmond out of the Middle Border Conference, it may be time to look at where the New Richmond programs are at, to see what it would take to get them ready for a move to the BRC.
There are sports where New Richmond faces BRC teams on a regular basis, and the New Richmond High School administration has pushed hard in recent years to get more BRC opponents on the Tiger schedules. New Richmond faces BRC opposition in a number of post-season schedules, so the transition to facing BRC opponents is becoming more of a necessity.
"Raising the bar in regular season competition always helps make our teams tougher for post season tournament runs. We try to schedule the best competition we can given realistic travel constraints and have also worked to play teams in our grouping," said New Richmond athletic director Casey Eckardt.
"We thought this would be a prudent time to look at the quality of opposition that currently exists in the BRC and how the New Richmond programs currently compare to the BRC programs. While it may be several years before any other New Richmond programs would move out of the Middle Border Conference, enrollment figures are on a trajectory that the student population numbers at NRHS will continue to grow."
Whether a move to the BRC happens in five years, 10 years, or never, it is a possibility that needs to be planned for, involving every level from youth teams to the varsity level.
Football: The BRC has an excellent reputation in football, but New Richmond has shown it is comparable to quality BRC programs. Menomonie sets the benchmark in BRC football under coach Joe LaBuda. Rice Lake and Hudson have also been perennial threats to reach the WIAA playoffs. New Richmond has a good idea where it stands, facing Rice Lake and River Falls in non-conference games to start every season.
Cross country: In the MBC, New Richmond is traditionally one of the top cross country programs. The Tigers know that if a move to the BRC happens, they will have to get even better. The BRC is packed with talented distance runners. Hudson, River Falls and Eau Claire Memorial produce quality teams every year.
Boys soccer: This is another sport where New Richmond should make a smooth transition to the BRC. New Richmond has reached the WIAA state tournament each of the past two years in Division 2. The quality of competition in facing teams like Hudson and the Eau Claire schools will force New Richmond to keep upping its game.
Volleyball: Balance. That's the code word for BRC volleyball. River Falls has won the two most recent titles, but Eau Claire Memorial, Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire North have all won at least two BRC titles since 2010. The MBC is a good volleyball conference, but a move to the BRC would take the competition level for the Tigers up another step.
Girls tennis: Eau Claire Memorial has won every BRC title, except in 2008, since 1994. With Eau Claire's availability of indoor practice facilities, those schools have a built-in advantage. New Richmond is competitive with the other programs in the BRC.
Boys basketball: This is a tough call. New Richmond has been a middle of the pack team in the Middle Border Conference the past several seasons. The Tigers have only finished among the top two teams in the MBC once in the past six years. The Tigers are always a respected program in the MBC. But they have not fared well against BRC programs the past several years. A move to the BRC would be a significant step up in the Tigers' competition level.
Girls basketball: This is one of the biggest question marks for the Tigers. When New Richmond moved to the BRC for several years in the 1990s, girls basketball struggled. The Tigers have been near the bottom of the MBC standings the past several years. With several promising classes starting to rise through the ranks, the Tigers may now be in a better position to compete against BRC schools.
Boys hockey: The BRC is one of the best boys hockey conferences in the state, and New Richmond will make the BRC even better. The Tigers don't benefit greatly from their MBC schedule. Facing more BRC opponents would force the Tigers to be a more consistent team, with more high-end opponents on their schedule.
Girls hockey: A move to the BRC might give the Western Wisconsin Stars the first chance to compete in a conference. With Hudson, Eau Claire, the River Falls co-op and the Menomonie-Chippewa Falls co-op, along with possibly Superior, this would become a standout conference. And these teams play each other regularly already. In truth, the Stars should be invited into the conference now to give them the full opportunity to play in a conference.
Wrestling: This is a sport where the Tigers would fit in quickly. Hudson has become the BRC's best wrestling squad, but the Tigers are on equal footing with any of the other BRC squads.
Baseball: As champions three years running in the MBC, the Tiger baseball team has regained its reputation as one of the best programs in the area. If the Tigers want to maintain that reputation in the BRC, it won't be easy, but it's a challenge the Tigers are ready to take. The BRC is outstanding in baseball, led by the Eau Claire schools, Hudson, Chippewa Falls and River Falls all have been periodic contenders. A move to the BRC would push New Richmond to do an even better job of developing pitching.
Softball: Chippewa Falls advanced to state in Division 1 last year and the Cards have won the BRC title each of the past 10 years. Hudson and Rice Lake always have respectable programs. New Richmond has gone through three coaches in three seasons. It now appears the Tigers have stability in the coaching staff, which should help the program succeed.
Boys and girls track: Hudson has become the premier track program in the BRC, drawing out incredible numbers of athletes for the program. The Tigers have been one of the top programs in the MBC, but a move to the BRC would heighten the need to draw more numbers into the program.
Girls soccer: Eau Claire Memorial has won the past seven BRC titles. New Richmond hasn't been able to get onto the ECM schedule, but the Tigers have been comparable to the other top BRC programs, like River Falls and Hudson. The Tigers have reached the WIAA Division 2 sectionals each of the past two seasons and the Tiger program continues to produce skilled players.
Boys' tennis: This is another case where Eau Claire Memorial's access to year-round facilities makes the Old Abes the premier program in western Wisconsin. ECM has won every Big Rivers title since 1997. The Tigers can compete with every other Big Rivers program.