The School District of Janesville will not pay its high school spring sport head coaches after the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Seven of the eight other Big Eight Conference districts will pay their coaches.

At a track meet, if a runner drops the baton, their entire relay team is disqualified.

If the School District of Janesville was a relay team, it would have failed to make it through the first exchange.

Seven of 10 Big Eight Conference athletic programs are paying the head coaches of their spring sports teams in full, despite the fact the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring season.

Recognizing their coaches’ work extends well beyond the spring season, and because many coaches continue to lead their student-athletes even though their season has been canceled, the vast majority of districts within The Gazette’s coverage area will pay their coaches in full this spring.

And all of them will pay their coaches at least some percentage.

Except Janesville.

Janesville’s spring sport coaches will receive nothing, except for track and field coaches being compensated for the one week of practices held before the WIAA suspended and eventually canceled the season.

“Since there are no spring sports taking place right now, there are no spring coaching salaries being paid,” School District of Janesville Public Information Officer Patrick Gasper said in an email. “If the coach is also on staff for other duties (teacher for example), they are getting paid their teacher salary.”

How many ways can the school district drop the baton in this relay?

Each of these coaches spends all offseason preparing for the spring—from conducting camps and open gyms to formulating practice plans and being a resource for the development of their student-athletes.

“The School District of Janesville leadership team made the decision to not pay spring coaches due to the cancellation of the spring sports season,” Gasper said.

“The decision followed the guiding principle for all positions in the district during the COVID-19 public health emergency—employees will be paid for work done.”

It is abundantly clear this leadership team does not include anyone that is involved in the realm of athletics, or they would understand these coaches have already done plenty of work.

The vast majority of area school districts recognize this.

Madison Metropolitan School District athletic director Jeremy Schlitz confirmed all four Madison schools are paying their spring coaches in full. Fellow Big Eight programs Middleton, Sun Prairie and Verona are, as well.

Milton, Elkhorn, Lake Geneva Badger, Evansville, Brodhead/Juda, Turner and Whitewater are all also paying their spring head coaches in full. Orfordville Parkview is paying its coaches 80% of their salary, while Clinton is paying 40% and Delavan-Darien 10%.

Administrators for Edgerton and Walworth Big Foot have yet to finalize a decision, but we encourage them to follow the direction of their Rock Valley Conference companions and offer their coaches at least 40% of their pay.

(Editor's update May 18, 2020: Since this column was published, Clinton and Edgerton have voted to pay their head coaches 100% of their contract, and Big Foot will pay its head coaches 50%.)

When asked why their stance differs so greatly from their Big Eight Conference and area counterparts, administrators in Janesville offered, “While we cannot speak to how other districts determine how to use their limited funds, we must balance our commitment to support employees for the work that they do, while remaining fiscally responsible to our local taxpayers.”

That explanation is simply not good enough.

Neither is the message administrators are sending to their student-athletes.

Despite the cancellation of the spring season, the WIAA has encouraged all coaches to “connect with their student-athletes with virtual organizational team meetings and team building exercises by video messaging.” The majority of area districts paying their spring coaches are doing so at least in part because their coaches are participating in such activities.

“We are paying our coaches. They are working virtually with their teams and many have put in countless hours during the offseason,” Elkhorn athletic director Dan Kiel said in an email. “The reality is that they are missing out on the fun part of the year.”

“Milton will pay the spring coaches,” Milton athletic director Brian Hammil said in an email. “Coaches have been and will continue to participate in professional development, webinars, and engage our student athletes in various ways.”

By not paying their coaches, the School District of Janesville is either robbing its student-athletes from what few opportunities remain to develop, virtually, through their spring sports and activities or it is hoping coaches will engage in such activities on a voluntary, unpaid basis.

“If that type of interaction/engagement is happening, then it would be voluntary,” Gasper confirmed.

Most relay runners get one chance. Drop the baton and the race is over.

The School District of Janesville has dropped the baton at every turn in this race. And yet, it still has a chance to make things right.

Reward your coaches for their efforts. Give your student-athletes every opportunity imaginable during these trying times.

Pay your spring sport coaches.

Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at eschmoldt@gazettextra.com.

Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at eschmoldt@gazettextra.com.