The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Board of Control passed a statewide football-only conference realignment proposal — including Northland Pines — at its April meeting.

The goal was to develop eight-team conferences across the state for football considering school size and travel distance.

Northland Pines, which played an independent schedule last year and will again in 2019, will move to the Marinette-Oconto Northern Lakes Packerland Conference (MONLPC)-West for football only in 2020. Teams in the conference will include Oconto Falls (489 students), Northland Pines (389), Tomahawk (377), Crandon (247), Niagara-Goodman-Pembine (235), Coleman (214), Crivitz (202) and Menominee Indian (n/a). 

Previous to playing as an independent, the Northland Pines football team played in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pines head coach A.J. Zayia is thrilled about the new conference.

“We are excited to have a home in a conference again. It has been tough trying to schedule nine non- conference games with playing as an independent,” said Zayia. “I think overall this conference will be a good fit for us. Week in and week out we will have good competition, which is all we can ask for.” 

There will be no Northern Lakes Conference in football and Three Lakes has returned to 8-man football.

The Great Northern Conference will include Merrill (802), Rhinelander (781), Antigo (777), Lakeland (711), Ashland (674), Medford (639), Mosinee (626) and Hayward-Lac Courte Oreillies (607) for football only.

The WIAA board unanimously approved its final consideration of the football-only conference proposal crafted by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association. First approval of the plan was granted by the board with a 9-2 vote at its meeting in March. Membership rules required a 40-day window for schools involved in realignment plans to appeal the first consideration of the board before it took final action today. Fifteen schools filed concerns or appeals of the initial vote by the April 10 deadline and were presented to the board.

The plan, which will be implemented in the 2020 season, gives uniformity to the number of schools affiliated with a conference and makes certain programs have enough conference games for playoff qualification.

“As I indicated when the board gave its initial support of the plan, this was an enormous undertaking and a groundbreaking venture for the WIAA,” said WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson. “This was a good-faith effort, and there was openness to alternative ideas, ‘big-picture’ thinking, and widespread acceptance of the final decision. It’s also important to convey that at any time there is 100% agreement of all impacted members, relief can be fast-tracked.”

In the future, football-only realignment will follow the conference realignment procedures approved by the board at its meeting in January.

In the meantime, Northland Pines football fans can start plotting a map for northeastern Wisconsin starting in 2020.