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Craig football players run a practice drill Tuesday, August 1, 2017, at Craig High School in Janesville.

It’s hard to believe, but the high school football season kicks off August 17.

The first day of practice is August 1.

And if the persistent rumors are true, Janesville Craig’s and Janesville Parker’s days in the Big Eight Conference could be numbered.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is expected to approve later this month a statewide football-only conferences proposal submitted by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association, which would move Parker and Craig into the Badger South Conference starting with the 2020 season.

Current conference alignments would not change for all other sports.

Under the new alignment, 10-team conferences would be a thing of the past. Every school with a football program would play in an eight-team conference, with some seven-team conferences also in the mix.

Craig and Parker would join the Badger South in 2020, with Milton, Monona Grove, Stoughton, Watertown, Fort Atkinson and Oregon making up the rest of the conference. Current Badger South schools Monroe and Madison Edgewood are expected to join the Rock Valley in 2020, which would split back up into either large and small divisions or back to the North and South. The Rock Valley is currently a 10-team league, so two or possibly four other area schools would also also join the conference to get it to either a two seven-team or eight-team conferences for football.

Verona head coach Dave Richardson said the proposal is a step toward making the playing field more competitive state-wide.

“Everything they’re trying to do is good,” he said. “I think the Football Coaches Association has done a good job with it. The WIAA is moving forward. I think for the most part, 99.9 percent of everyone I’ve talked to is all for it. The Janesville schools are disappointed about leaving Beloit, but at least they will be in the same conference and play each other each year.

“So the whole purpose of this, I think, is so they will be able to tweak things as you move on and schools’ enrollments change. I think it is a great plan.”

Obviously, Milton playing both Craig and Parker every season makes for a great rivalry and is far more appealing than losing the annual rivalry game against Beloit Memorial that lost its luster years ago.

Another positive to the realignment is adding two nonconference games to the start of the season. Craig and Parker both play a nine-game conference schedule now and don’t have the luxury of getting nonconference games in before the start of the rugged Big Eight season. Padding a resume with two nonconference wins can go a long way in securing a playoff berth. And if the proposal does pass, Craig and Parker could both still schedule Beloit, this time as a nonconference game.

If the Janesville schools make the move to the Badger South, they will be the two biggest schools enrollment-wise. Craig would be the biggest school based on its enrollment of 1,857 in 2017. Parker would be next with 1,549. Watertown is the biggest Badger South school now at 1,345, with Milton second at 1,103.

“This plan leaves most of the conferences intact with the same names, but it would move 50 to 60 schools that would basically have no greater than a 2-to-1 ratio (enrollment size),” WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki said.

Stay tuned. The WIAA’s plan will be released to the coaches later this month at the All-Star Games.

John Barry is a sports writer for The Gazette. Email him at jbarry@gazettextra.com

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