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Rural school athletic directors propose enrollment multiplier to increase competition

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Tournament season is over, but the discussion of creating fairer competition between public and private schools is heating up. The discussion has been ongoing since private schools first became a part of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) in 2000. That discussion is now taking a front seat thanks to a recent proposal from a few rural athletic directors.

The proposal will be discussed during the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association's annual meeting in Stevens Point on Wednesday. Nearly a thousand athletic directors, coaches and school officials will discuss many issues, but the major topic this year is the idea of creating an enrollment multiplier for private high schools.

The multiplier would make every student at a private high school count as 1.65 students instead of just one. That means a student body of 100 students would turn into 165 students when it comes time to assigning schools to athletic divisions. The proposal would bump up several school districts a division or two so they can compete against tougher competition.

Some athletic directors believe that private schools have an unfair advantage because they're able to enroll students from anywhere in the state. These athletic directors also make the argument that students at private schools are more likely to play high schools sports, which creates an unfair advantage.

"This is all about making things fair. It's not about state tournaments and who gets to play in them. We just want to have the discussion about making things fair between private and public schools, Black Hawk Athletic Director Jerry Mortimer says.

Some private school athletic directors argue the change would do more harm than good.

"It would affect us greatly. I think there would be a couple of our sports that would be in real danger of even surviving anymore. I would be very concerned about our football program," Edgewood High School Athletic Director Chris Zwettler says.

Zwettler is among several private school athletic directors who are against the recent proposal created by a few dozen rural school districts including Belmont and Black Hawk. The petition was signed by every school district in the Six Rivers Conference and has drawn signatures from nearly 80 school districts in the state.

"We've got to level the playing field and make sure that we all have the same guidelines the same chances, the same playing level as everybody," Mortimer says.

One of the main concerns for this multiplier idea is that it affects all sports equally. That means every sports team in a school district would move up a division if a multiplier forces them to do so. While the proposal could create more fair competition for a school district with a dominating team in one sport, it could also push a struggling team in a different sport into a tougher division. While some sports teams may be able to handle the increased competition, others will struggle even more than they already are. Some athletic directors say this could lead to injuries and safety concerns in the long run.

The WIAA board is firmly against the idea, but says they're open to discussing the idea of creating more fair competition.

"I have very grave concerns about the multiplier. We have seen in other states the affect of the multiplier is that it hasn't worked or hasn't accomplished all of its aims. In a couple of instances, they have simply done away with the multiplier altogether," WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson says.

So far nearly 80 school districts out of more than 500 in Wisconsin have signed the multiplier petition. That equates to a 15% approval rating. WIAA officials say only 10% is needed to bring the issue to their annual meeting. Several states, including Illinois, currently have enrollment multipliers in place.

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