"We're still fighting the fight."
That was River Falls' activities director Rollie Hall's assessment after the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control voted in support of a statewide football-only conference realignment plan from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association at its monthly meeting March 1.
The plan, which would make sweeping changes to conferences around the state, would move River Falls from the Big Rivers Conference to the Mississippi Valley Conference for football only beginning with the 2020 season. River Falls has objected to the plan from the start and Hall said they aren't giving up now.
"We're obviously opposed and we will continue to be opposed and even if it goes through, for the next two years we will continue to voice our displeasure," he said.
River Falls currently plays in the Big Rivers Conference, which includes Hudson, Eau Claire Memorial, Eau Claire North, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, Rice Lake and Superior. Their longest road trip is 350 miles round-trip to Superior, which they only make every other season. Their shortest is 30 miles to Hudson and back. The others range from 90 to 170 miles total.
Under the new plan, New Richmond would replace River Falls in the BRC and the Wildcats would move to the Mississippi Valley Conference to join Holmen, La Crosse Central, La Crosse Logan, Tomah, Onalaska, Sparta and West Salem, meaning four to five round trips a season of 200 to 300 miles each.
The goal of the plan is to create uniformity in the number of teams in each conference as well as standardize the number of conference games each team plays for playoff qualification. Currently, some teams are members of conferences with as many as 11 teams and as few as five. This means some teams have to win five games to become playoff-eligible, while others need to win just two.
In the WFCA proposal, most conference would have eight teams. River Falls would become the eighth team in the MCV while the BRC would maintain eight teams with the addition of New Richmond.
Hall, Wildcat head coach David Crail and high school principal Kit Luedtke traveled to the WIAA Board of Control meeting March 1, along with representatives from roughly 10 other schools, to voice their displeasure with the plan.
"They all had different types of concerns but ours was the only one that dealt with distance," he said. "Theirs was more competitive-related. Ours had nothing to do with competitiveness. It was about distance and how it would affect not only our team but our community going to games. I think they understand the issue, but it wasn't enough to overturn it."
The board voted 9-2 to move forward with the plan.
"I'm not sure if that was because of us but I will say the only questions they asked were to River Falls," Hall said.
Schools now have until April 10 to file an appeal of the initial vote. The board will give final consideration of the plan at its meeting on April 16, at which time the plan can only be approved or rejected with no modification.
Hall stressed that the board's vote wasn't just about River Falls.
"We weren't denied," he said. "It wasn't just River Falls, the entire plan went through. Now it's got to be voted on and there can't be any modifications. If there are modifications they have to vote no."
He said River Falls intends to continue the appeal process.
"We're hoping to either present another idea that would cause them to vote no, then it would go back to the drawing board for more votes, or even if it's voted yes maybe it can be tweaked after the fact. But we haven't given up."
Hall said River Falls is working on a proposal that would include all 16 schools in the BRC and MVC along with New Richmond. It would leave River Falls in the BRC and add New Richmond to the BRC to make it a 9-team conference while leaving the MVC as a 7-team conference and playing crossover games.
"We have another proposal out there, but to be honest if it's not 100 percent with all 16 teams it won't work," he said. "But we're pushing it and I would say that the BRC overall is good with it. I've talked to a couple MVC schools and I'm going to talk with each one of them personally in the next few weeks."
Conference realignment for football has been a hot topic for the WIAA for a number of years. A 2009 proposal that would have replaced conferences with districts based solely on enrollment failed to pass due largely to travel issues.
In 2017 the WIAA tasked the WFCA with creating a new proposal, which resulted in the current plan.
Hall said no plan would be perfect, he's just asking this one be given a second look.
"They worked hard at it," he said about the WFCA. "It's not easy and we're not blaming them. We're not saying they didn't do their work. This is just the plan they came up with. What we're trying to say is, hey we realize you put a lot of work into this, but you might have to have just one little exception."
If the plan receives final approved on April 16, barring any further tweaking by the WIAA, River Falls would spend at least the 2020 and 2021 seasons in the MVC before having another chance to appeal.