1976: A LOOK AT THE START OF THE WIAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS

The WIAA gave in to pressure from coaches to formulate a football playoff program that would start in 1976. It was a two-year baby step approach to see if the playoffs would stay. Now, if you look at my book, The Great Teams, you will see a listing of the Associated Press and United Press football poll results for the seasons 1947 and 1958-1975 (There were no polls between 1948-57). What you won’t see is the final press poll that was presented in 1976 because it really didn’t mean anything. The playoffs would determine the state champion, not in three groups of teams as the polls did (Big, Middle and Small schools) but in four classes (AA, A. B and C). Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. Choosing who would play and in what class was a problem that the WIAA would have to address. First, let’s look the final polls:


Big Schools:

1) Racine Horlick 9-0

2) Antigo 9-0

3) South Milwaukee 9-0 AND Madison West 8-1

5) Milwaukee Madison 9-0

6) Plymouth 9-0

Middle Schools:

1) Clintonville 9-0

2) Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs 9-0

3) Stevens Point Pacelli 10-0

4) Prairie du Chien 10-0

5) Wisconsin Dells 9-0

6) Ripon 8-0

7) Westfield 9-0

Small Schools:

1) Spring Valley 9-0

2) DeSoto 9-0

3) Fall Creek 9-0

4) Wild Rose 9-0


For the most part, setting teams up into three classes would have been easy. Just take the top four schools in the AP poll and be done with it but the WIAA went with four classes and that presented some problems. The WIAA spent $5,000 on a computer program to determine teams using a complex point system based on won-loss records, opponents schedule and overall strength of schedules. What they got was:


Class AA:

  • Antigo (#2 in the AP poll) vs. Milwaukee Madison (#5 in the AP poll)

  • Racine Horlick (# 1 in the AP poll) vs. South Milwaukee (#3 in the AP poll)

  • No Madison West.

Class A:

  • Clintonville (#1 in the Middle School AP poll) vs. Wisconsin Dells (#5 in the Middle School AP poll)

  • Hartland Arrowhead (#12 in the Big School AP poll) vs. Menomonee Falls East (#20 in the Big School AP poll with an 8-2 record)

Class B

  • Mondovi (#8 in the Middle School AP poll with an 9-0 record) vs Plymouth (#6 in the Big School AP poll)

  • Iowa-Grant (#11 in the Middle School AP poll with an 9-0 record) vs. Prairie de Chien (#4 in the Middle School AP poll).

Class C

  • Spring Valley (#1 in the Small School AP poll and sporting a 43-game winning streak) vs. DeSoto (#2 in the Small School AP poll)

  • Westfield (#7 in the Middle School AP poll) vs. Wild Rose (#4 in the Small School AP poll)

  • No Fall Creek.

Antigo would rule in Class AA, defeating Racine Horlick 6-0. Menomonee Falls East defeated Clintonville 12-7 to become the Class A champions despite two regular season losses. Plymouth overpowered Iowa-Grant 42-12 to win the Class B title. In Class C DeSoto beat Wild Rose 32-14.


Schools were not happy with the placement or exclusion of several schools in the playoff roster. To say the least, Madison West and Fall Creek were not happy with being excluded while others protested that moving Plymouth down to Class B wasn’t right. What has to be remembered is that the WIAA football playoffs were an experiment. The association wasn’t sure that the playoffs would work so they took small steps, inviting 16 schools to the playoffs. The field would be expanded to five divisions in 1978-80 and to six divisions from 1981-2001. Since 2002 there have been seven divisions and the number of teams allowed to participate has grown from that total of 16 schools in 1976 to 224 schools in 2019. 8-player teams have developed and that has expanded playoff pools even more. The seasons have gotten longer and have started earlier to accommodate the season ending on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. After the completion of 1976 WIAA championships, what had been an experiment, with all its flaws, was now a reality. The expanded games were a money maker. Fans and schools wanted more and there was no going back.


What those fans and school’s got was also a lot more controversy in 1977...

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