Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker were slated to join the Badger Large Conference in football-only competitions beginning with the 2020 fall season.
COVID-19 ended that, with both city schools opting out of a fall season for a truncated “alternate” spring season. A seven-game shortened spring slate is tentatively scheduled to begin March 25 with Badger Large games for both city schools, but the conference has not decided yet if games will count or a conference champion will be crowned because of ongoing coronavirus concerns.
If games are not held or the conference cancels the spring season, it looks as though the fall of 2021 might be the one and only Badger Large campaign for the city schools.
The WIAA’s Conference Realignment Task Force is expected to approve a realignment proposal on Jan. 6 that would move Craig and Parker back into the Big Eight Conference starting with the 2022 season. It would also move Sun Prairie East and the new Sun Prairie West to the Badger Large.
Also under the plan, which was proposed by Sun Prairie, current Big Eight member Beloit Memorial would switch to the Southern Lakes Conference in football only, and Delavan-Darien would make the move from the Southern Lakes to the Rock Valley in football only.
Craig coach Adam Bunderson simply wants the Cougars to find a permanent home and stay there.
“More than anything, we just want some stability for our program,” Bunderson said. “We haven’t even played a game in the Badger Large, and now it looks like we might not be even staying there.
“The one good thing about going back to the Big Eight is that it would cut down on some travel time, and we’ve already established good relationships with the Big Eight coaches. When Clayton (Kreger) and I walked into our first Badger Large meeting, the only coach we kind of knew was Rodney (Wedig) of Milton because he had been at Beloit.
“But really, with everything that’s going on right now, what conference we’re going to play in two years from now is the least of our concerns.”
According to current enrollment figures, if the two city schools are placed back in the Big Eight for football, Parker would be the smallest school with 1,459 students and Craig the fourth-smallest at 1,726. Middleton is currently the biggest Big Eight school with an enrollment of 2,250.
The two Sun Prairie schools would be two of the three largest in the Badger Large with an estimated 1,325 students. Waunakee is the largest with an enrollment of 1,337.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic still creating fluid situations, enrollment numbers are sure to change within the next two years.
Delavan-Darien has been lobbying with the WIAA for years to get out of the Southern Lakes. The Comets are easily the smallest school in the Lakes with an enrollment of 701. Lake Geneva Badger has an enrollment of 1,304, and seven of the nine conference schools have enrollments over 1,000.
By moving to the Rock Valley, Delavan-Darien would be the second-biggest school behind McFarland (707), but all eight conference schools would fall between 539 (Edgerton) and 707 (McFarland) students, which is far less of a disparity than in the current Southern Lakes.
Delavan-Darien coach Hank Johnson would welcome the move.
“We have always loved being a part of the Southern Lakes Conference; however, with where our enrollment is at right now, we have asked that we be looked at in the Rock Valley in order to be more competitive,” Johnson said. “While we have not backed down from the challenge, for football we are playing in a conference that all teams are usually Division 2 and we’re Division 3.
“We feel that across all three levels, we can be more competitive in the Rock Valley playing against teams that are around our enrollment.”
We will know more next month, but it appears Craig and Parker’s move to the Badger Large Conference in football is a temporary one.